Most of the emphasis on estate planning is about having your affairs in order before you die. But if you survive your spouse or partner, your estate planning needs have changed. The protections that you and the deceased put in place together may not be the best options for you now as a single survivor, and some may even be legally void. Post-mortem estate planning after the death of a loved one should be an essential part of protecting any inheritance you have received or may be entitled to receive.
First, don’t rush into anything. Don’t make any important financial or legal decisions while dealing with the emotional aftermath of a death. This is one time when having a solid estate plan in place will be helpful. It should have been prepared with the intention of getting you through the grieving process without having to make these decisions during that time.
Once you feel ready to discuss the plans for yourself going forward, organize all of the information you will need. (Ideally, you will have done this long ago as part of your initial estate planning efforts.) Gather financial information such as banking, investments, insurance policies, retirement accounts, and any other documents that will be important to revising your individual estate plan. Put together your will or trust, powers of attorney, living wills and other estate planning documents so that these can be reviewed to change beneficiaries or the person named to handle your health and financial decisions when it becomes necessary.
Do not make any major decisions by yourself. Consult an estate planning professional before transferring any funds, retitling any assets, probating a will or any other legal or financial transactions. Even the slightest misstep could cause a stumble in the legal process. The post-mortem process of administering the estate of the deceased will be the first step in creating an effective individual estate plan.