Estate Planning for the Uninitiated –
By Anne Tergesen, Wall Street Journal – 3/29/2019
Gary Altman, an estate-planning attorney in Rockville, Md., recently had a client turn to her brother-in-law to cover bills after her husband died. The client had plenty of money, but she couldn’t readily access it because some of the accounts were in her husband’s name alone and financial institutions often freeze single-owner accounts when a person dies.
“Her spouse died with assets in his own name, and their joint accounts were not large enough” to cover daily expenses, Mr. Altman said.
Mr. Altman’s client eventually got court authorization to manage her husband’s accounts, but hers was an avoidable problem.
Financial professionals and attorneys who work with widows and widowers say it’s common for surviving spouses who took a back seat on money matters to find themselves with an incomplete picture of their net worth or where the accounts are held. It’s a challenge that comes at a terrible time, when the spouse who inherits responsibility for the money is overwhelmed and may not fully understand the details. Yet “you cannot put your head in the sand because you are grieving,” said Rebecca Milliman, senior wealth strategist at CIBC U.S. Private Wealth Management. “A lot needs to get done.” There are steps couples can take to prevent—or resolve—any issues.
If you don’t have advisers already, you probably need to hire a financial planner, an attorney who specializes in estate settlement, and an accountant to file income tax returns for the estate and handle any state or federal estate tax returns that are due.
Decisions that are difficult or expensive to reverse, such as moving or giving money away, should wait until the surviving spouse is no longer in shockand understands his or her financial needs. “I have seen people give money to the kids and then realize they need it,” Ms. Bradley said. “Once you have enough cash to pay the bills, there’s usually no hurry” to make other decisions.