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Preparing an estate plan for the death of both spouses

Following the death of George H.W. Bush just a few months after his wife's death, some Florida couples may have wondered how their estate plans would be affected if one died shortly after the after. Sometimes called "broken-heart syndrome," this is not an unusual occurrence when a couple has been together for a long time. There are steps people can take to help ensure that assets are still transferred smoothly even if this happens.

A survivorship provision requires a spouse to live for a certain amount of time after the death of the first spouse. With this in place, if spouses die just a few hours or days apart, it may be possible for their estates to pass through probate together. However, this would not have been useful in the case of the Bushes since there was a longer gap. In such a situation, there might be a question as to who assets will pass to. With a qualified disclaimer, the spouse can choose to waive a claim on assets so they go directly to the next beneficiary.

Beneficiary designations are another potential problem. Spouses usually name one another on these. If a surviving spouse dies without updating the form, the assets could become part of the estate. The advantages of being able to take distributions is lost, and the asset will have to go through probate.

People who are creating an estate plan may want to discuss these concerns with an attorney. Even younger couples should think about what might happen in these circumstances since it could occur after an accident or even with unexpected illnesses. Younger couples may also have minor children, and they might want to make sure their estate plan provides for them. If a person dies without an estate plan, this is known as dying intestate, and it will result in assets being distributed according to state law.

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