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Estate planning and the widowhood effect

When people in Florida consider their plans for the future of their assets, they may turn their mind to the deaths of George and Barbara Bush. In 2018, George Bush died less than eight months after his wife passed away, a phenomenon that is far from uncommon. Often called the “widowhood effect,” older long-time married couples have been known to die naturally shortly after one another.

Because of this relatively common outcome, it can be important to keep it in mind when couples engage in estate planning. When one half of a married couple dies, it may not occur to the surviving spouse to address their estate plans shortly thereafter. However, it can be important to do so as quickly as possible in order to avoid unnecessary confusion later on. If two married partners pass away quickly after one another, the administration of both estates could become more complex.

In some cases, the process may actually be eased; some experts cited the case of famous handbag designer Judith Leiber and her husband, who died hours apart from heart attacks. In this case, the two estates may be processed simultaneously. However, with a gap of eight months, as in the case of the Bushes, both estates may be processed one after the other with some unexpected effects.

One of the most practical steps to take after a spouse passes away is for the surviving spouse to review his or her own beneficiary designations for life insurance policies, retirement accounts or investment funds. An estate planning attorney may work with people thinking about the future to develop key documents like wills, trusts and powers of attorney to prepare for different eventualities.

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