While planning for the passing of a loved one isn’t pleasant, it’s important to ensure that you are financially prepared for the death of your spouse, rather than being left in a vulnerable financial position. Likewise, you can help your spouse plan for the possibility of you passing away first, thereby leaving them with a financial plan to navigate what can be a difficult time.
As a fee-only financial planner in Roseville, CA, we understand that California’s community property rules may seem to simplify the process of preparing for the death of a spouse, as property and assets acquired during a marriage generally default to the surviving spouse.
However, dealing with the death of a spouse isn’t always so financially easy. For instance, your spouse may specify in their will that they want a portion of their half of the community property to be left to the children.
Other factors, such as probate courts, life insurance policies, and Social Security survivor benefits, can complicate matters. In addition, some couples may not have their finances in a position where the surviving spouse can carry on without worrying about maintaining their lifestyle.
So, to help ensure you are financially prepared for the death of a spouse, we recommend building a financial plan that includes:
Completing an Estate Plan
Estate planning is arguably the most important aspect of being financially prepared for the death of a spouse. You want to ensure that you and your spouse work out a plan that puts the surviving spouse in a solid financial position without the need to deal extensively with legal issues.
That means taking steps such as creating a will to specify what portion of a spouse’s 50% stake in the community property will go to the surviving spouse. A will can also specify how assets held solely by one spouse will be distributed.
Depending on your financial position, your spouse may want to leave everything to you, and vice versa or they might want to incorporate children, other family members, charities, etc., in the estate plan.
Estate planning should also involve a regular review of beneficiary designations to simplify how assets will be distributed following the death of a spouse. For retirement planning accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs, as well as other assets like life insurance policies, making sure you and your spouse have the right beneficiary designations can help ensure you’re financially prepared for the death of a spouse, rather than having these assets come under scrutiny in probate court and potentially not end up in the hands of a surviving spouse.
Calculating Income Needs
The death of a spouse can cause a significant change in the amount of income coming into a household, and you need to prepare for this possibility. By calculating the income needs of a surviving spouse, you can identify whether the assets designated for that spouse would be enough for them or whether they would need to supplement their income.
For example, if your spouse dies, you may want to claim Social Security survivor benefits, particularly if your spouse earned more over their career than you. Some spouses may also need to earn additional income through a job change in the event their partner passes away relatively young.
In other cases, calculating income needs may clarify that you need to inherit only a portion of your spouse’s assets to be financially prepared for their death. This knowledge can make it easier to incorporate children, charitable giving, and other areas into your estate planning.
Analyzing Insurance Options
While not everyone needs life insurance, these policies can be helpful for some widows and widowers. For instance, when reviewing estate planning and income needs, you may realize that you don’t have enough assets to last the rest of the surviving spouse’s life. A life insurance policy could reduce the risk that the death of a spouse would cause financial hardship for the other partner.
Similarly, you may want to analyze other types of protection, like long-term care insurance. If a spouse gets sick and needs assistance that falls outside of what health insurance or Medicare covers, long-term-care insurance might ease the financial burden. Otherwise, you may find it harder to be financially prepared for the death of a spouse if the other partner had to use a significant portion of the assets on a home health aide, for instance.
Preparation Is Important
By focusing on these areas, you can be more financially prepared for the death of a spouse, rather than ending up in a complex, time-consuming, financially fraught situation. Working with a financial advisor can help clarify these areas in light of your overall finances and provide a financial plan that can leave you or your spouse in a comfortable position when the other passes.