Estate planning, spouses and passwords

Women in Texas should know that being able to access important estate and financial information after the death of their spouse has always been a serious issue. This is because statistics show that women have a higher likelihood than men of being widowed or having a spouse with a grave medical condition. The issue has become more pronounced since the spread of digitization. Due to digital passwords and records, fewer paper records are available that can be used to help locate unknown accounts.

Another factor that complicates the issue is that women, no matter their age, tend to allow their spouse to overtake the responsibilities for handling important estate and financial matters. While younger women are more aware of the family's financial situation than women of older generations, they may still opt to not become involved.

Spouses can take steps to ensure that both parties are current on the family's estate and financial matters. It is important to make the effort to avoid surprises. Individuals should know that the beneficiary designations for retirement accounts or life insurance policies take priority over anything listed in a will. Whether the joint account is actually in both spouses' names should be verified. Each spouse should also have a credit card in their own name and should obtain a copy of their spouse's credit report. For easy and quick access, wills should not be locked away in a safe deposit box.

An estate planning attorney may consider the types of assets owned by clients and suggest the completion of certain legal devices to ensure that assets are handled according to a client's wishes after death. Assistance may be provided for properly wording wills, powers of attorney and trusts so that the appropriate individuals are able to access and manage a decedent's assets.

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