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Ensuring a Smooth Transition: Estate Planning Advice for Couples

Married life often entails sharing nearly every aspect of existence, but when it comes to confronting mortality, conversations can grow difficult. Surprisingly, studies show that half of all couples fail to discuss their end-of-life wishes.

Death may be an irrevocable departure for the deceased, but for the surviving spouse, it can raise numerous unanswered questions. While topics like burial arrangements and remarriage might seem uncomfortable, they are essential components of comprehensive estate planning. Even seemingly mundane details, such as the location of crucial documents and contact information, should not be overlooked.

Location of Important Documents

In many marriages, especially among older couples, financial matters are often intertwined. However, it’s not uncommon for one spouse to assume the primary responsibility for managing finances. According to statistics, fewer than one in four couples report that both partners equally manage household finances.

This can lead to potential issues, not just in everyday life but also during estate planning and after one’s passing. It’s vital for couples to maintain open communication and ensure that they’re both aware of the location of essential documents, including:

    • Estate planning documents
    • Life insurance paperwork
    • Loan documents
    • Financial account information (e.g., savings, retirement, and investment accounts)
    • Usernames, passwords, and other information for digital accounts and assets

Even in community property states where spouses are considered joint owners of most assets acquired during marriage, keeping certain finances separate can raise estate planning challenges. If one spouse has separate accounts and property with their estate planning documents, the other spouse should be aware of them to facilitate estate administration.

Contact Information

In the event of a spouse’s passing, the surviving spouse is often the first to be informed. Beyond that, there may be a predetermined hierarchy of contacts based on need-to-know. While the surviving spouse may have an idea of whom to contact and in what order, it’s crucial to remember that contact information today is typically stored in digital devices rather than physical directories.

To ensure that this information is accessible, consider maintaining a separate document or sharing phone login credentials. Beyond immediate family and close friends, the surviving spouse might be unsure about whom to contact, including extended family, religious leaders, club members, professional contacts, and the deceased’s employer if they were still working. Some individuals may also be named in the will and require inheritance notifications.

Burial Arrangements

The topic of handling a person’s remains is arguably one of the most uncomfortable aspects of discussing death. However, respecting a person’s burial preferences ensures they receive a fitting farewell. Whether someone opts for cremation, a traditional burial, natural burial (without a casket), or body donation to science, these choices should be discussed.

While some states grant primary authority over these decisions to the surviving spouse if no specific instructions exist, it’s still crucial to have these discussions. Although discussing these matters can be difficult, it ensures that the departed’s most personal wishes are honored.


In traditional wedding vows, we often hear the phrase “’til death do us part.” But what happens after death? Are spouses still bound by this promise? In most cases, both religious and secular perspectives accept that a widowed spouse is not wrong to remarry. However, personal feelings about remarriage can vary.

In today’s world, where divorce rates are high, the idea that a bereaved spouse should not remarry is outdated. Nevertheless, some individuals may have strong opinions on the matter, depending on their age, history, and beliefs. Estate planning can address these concerns, especially if one spouse wants to protect their children’s inheritance from a new spouse.

Remarriage is a topic worth discussing, as couples may not always see eye-to-eye on the matter. Couples with separate finances are free to handle their assets as they see fit. One spouse might be comfortable with remarriage and take no action, while the other may set up a trust to safeguard their assets.

In conclusion, estate planning is a thoughtful gift to your spouse. It’s the best way to take care of them when you’re no longer present. To demonstrate your love, consider contacting an estate planning attorney to discuss your options and ensure a smooth transition for your loved ones when the time comes.


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