How to prepare your estate for a surviving spouse

Even if you think your estate plan is complete, there may be other things you should attend to if your spouse outlives you. Most marriages have complexities to consider, such as individual property ownership, joint or separate bank accounts, and children and stepchildren. In many marriages, one person may pay the bills, handle the investments and do all the banking. If something happened to that spouse, would the other know what to do?

These examples are often overlooked, especially if the death is unexpected. Both spouses can feel more comfortable about the future when preparations are made early.

Update your estate plan

Things change. That includes your estate plan. Make sure yours is current and reflects any changes that need to occur. Ensure all areas outside your will and trust have been addressed and assets have been transferred to any newly formed trusts. To avoid assets being held up in probate, make sure trusts have been created or a beneficiary is chosen. A complete and current estate plan allows your loved ones to carry out your wishes easily.


Benefits to which a surviving spouse are entitled include:

  • Government benefits, such as Social Security
  • Employee benefits like retirement plans and life insurance 

Make sure your beneficiaries are up-to-date, and review periodically.

Documents and passwords

Someone should know where you keep your valuable documents in the event of your death. If you keep them in a home safe, someone needs the combination to the safe. If you keep them in a safety deposit box, someone should have access to a key. If you use online bill pay, maintain checking and savings accounts online, or use any other password-protected financial dealings, someone should have access to the passwords to prevent a lag in financial availability.


You may need to grant power of attorney for financial or medical reasons or appoint someone responsible for your care if you become incapacitated. Your spouse may need access to certain financial or health documents that require power of attorney or until your death if accounts are not held jointly.

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