I’m Attorney Paul Bernstein of the Bernstein Law Group. Unfortunately we see it over and over again in our law firm. We get a client who recently lost their spouse. And when they come in, we ask them to bring in any estate planning documents they may have, along with any financial records so we can help settle the estate.

A simple will is not enough

And they come in, and frequently, all they have is a simple will that might be old, or they may have nothing at all, as far as any previous estate plans go. So we review the situation and most assets are jointly held. The home is in both their names. They have bank accounts and investments in joint ownership, in both their names.

The surviving spouse is the beneficiary

There might be retirement plans and life insurance. But the surviving spouse is the named beneficiary. So the settlement process is simple and easy, which is what we want for clients. Some paperwork gets filed and typically there’s no court involvement. That’s great.

When the surviving spouse passes away

However, when the surviving spouse passes away, their lack of planning could end up lining the pockets of the government up to a hundred thousand dollars or more in estate taxes that could have been avoided with some pre-planning while both spouses were alive.

Lost opportunity to shelter money

We lost the opportunity to shelter up to a million dollars when the first spouse passed away, and that sheltering would have avoided estate taxes when the surviving spouse passed away.

That lack of planning cost the family up to a hundred thousand dollars or more in taxes that could have been avoided had they just picked up the phone and called and done some planning when both spouses were alive and well.

Don’t let this happen to your family. If you have any questions or you’re just not sure what to do, feel free to reach out to us.

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