The loss of a spouse can be one of the most traumatic and difficult periods in a person’s life. Whether you’ve been together just a few years or the majority of your life, a spouse’s death is challenging. Beyond dealing with the details of planning a service, you have to deal with your estate. While planning your estate at a time like this may seem like the last thing on your to-do list, it’s one of the most important steps you’ll need to take. Luckily, you can meet with an experienced estate planning attorney in Orange County who can help you get through a difficult task at a difficult time.

As the surviving spouse, there are a number of things you should consider when it comes to your estate:


Don’t Go it Alone: Work with an Orange County Estate Planning Lawyer

Not only is losing a spouse especially difficult, managing an estate is complicated. An Orange County estate planning attorney can make sure you efficiently get through this task with the least amount of stress possible. Grief can easily cause you to miss relevant paperwork and legal details. Even small mistakes can cause massive problems down the road.

  • Making a mistake that causes you to act out of accordance with the law can create an appearance of criminal behavior. California has a variety of strict rules surrounding estates, so you don’t want to disobey the law, even if it’s an accident.
  • If you perform your duties as the executor of your spouse’s estate incorrectly, you can potentially put your estate and assets at risk.

Your estate planning lawyer in Orange County keeps tabs on the ever-changing estate laws. Let’s face it: You already have enough on your plate dealing with the loss of a life-partner; it’s not the time to make matters worse by making legal errors.


Take Care of Your Deceased Spouse’s Estate

Hopefully, you had a chance to create an estate plan before losing your spouse. If so, his/her assets might be in a trust, or through other means will avoid probate court. You would be able to take over control of these assets right away. If there is no estate plan in place or you didn’t utilize a method to avoid probate, you’ll have to go through the court process.

Probate court is where a judge will decide who takes over control of different aspects of your deceased spouse’s assets. The process can take time and cost a good deal of money, which is why most estate planning lawyers look for ways to avoid going to court.

While it’s common for judges to rule in favor of the surviving spouse taking over the estate, the court can be complicated. Friends and family members can intervene, object to a will, or make their claim for a more significant piece of the estate. Even if the judge ultimately rules in your favor, the time spent battling with objections can cost a lot.

If you have a family trust, there will be detailed instructions on what will happen. The surviving spouse has the legal responsibility to carry out these instructions. In some cases, the surviving spouse is not selected as the successor trustee.

Most of the time that means the surviving spouse is the beneficiary of the trust. Make sure you have a copy of the trust and understand your rights and duties as either the trustee or the beneficiary.


Deal with the Dreaded Estate Tax

Estate tax can get pretty complicated. Much like your income tax, there is an exemption amount. Currently, the exemption amount is 5.45 million dollars for an individual or twice that for a married couple. Many modest estates that won’t reach this amount won’t ever cause any significant issues.

There are instances, however, when making the right elections will make a huge difference. If your estate is valued over the exemption amount or you are inheriting a family business, real estate, etc., you may want to deal with the estate tax appropriately. 

This is where having a seasoned estate planning and tax attorney in Orange County makes a huge difference. They can help you mitigate this tax or understand its impact on your inheritance.


Revise Your Estate Plan

Whether you had an existing estate plan with your spouse or not, now is the time to make updates or start from scratch. This process will involve naming new beneficiaries for the estate, retirement or insurance accounts, etc. You may also need to review and appoint a new guardian for your minor children.

Your previous estate plan most likely worked to transfer assets to the surviving spouse. Your new estate plan is either: a) going to work towards your own long-term planning, or b) passing on your assets to the next generation. Some documents might be easy to update. In some cases, it might be more efficient to simply tear up the old version and start a new one.

Without an estate plan or an updated version, your property and other assets will be distributed via probate court and not necessarily according to your wishes. Instead of leaving everything up to chance, schedule a consultation with an estate planning attorney and see what steps you can take to protect your estate.


How an Orange County Estate Planning Lawyer Can Help You

There are many details that come after someone’s death that can be easily overlooked, like notifying the post office, IRS, social security office, etc. An experienced attorney can work through these tasks with you to make sure all loose ends are tied. From working with your spouse’s benefits and pensions to taking stock of any outstanding debt: your lawyer will leave no stone unturned.

An estate planning attorney also works together with your existing financial planners, tax professionals, and so on, to ensure the entire team is on the same page. Again: while this might seem like the last thing on your mind, it’s an essential step towards moving forward.

You can take the time that you need to deal with your loss, but the fact of the matter is: there are a variety of legal deadlines that simply won’t wait. Even if you would usually feel confident handling these tasks on your own, you cannot afford to make a mistake. And more importantly: you have other things on your mind. Let the experts help – call an estate planning attorney today.

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