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Surviving spouses need to plan

When a person dies, their widow or widower is focused on resolving their estate and dealing with legal filings. However, surviving spouses must engage in estate planning for themselves and update their documents and plans.

The spouse must review their wills and trust documents to address what happens after they die because their deceased spouse was usually their heir or beneficiary. They should also take steps to protect their interests and assure that their original estate plan meets their needs.

For example, a person may want to change heirs so that assets and personal property are distributed in a different manner. Beneficiary forms for insurance, pensions, brokerage and bank accounts should be reviewed and revised because the primary and alternate beneficiary need updated.

A durable power of attorney is another important document that needs reviewed. A person usually names their spouse as their agent to make important decisions and execute documents if they ever become incapacitated. Once a spouse dies, the surviving spouse should identify new agents and alternates.

A health care proxy or medical power of attorney is used when a person is unable to express their health care decisions. This document should be reviewed to assure that a person still wants the named alternate, if their spouse was the named agent, to have powers under this agreement. New alternates should be named.

Likewise, federal law strictly restricts access to a person's medical information. A HIPAA release must be executed to assure that another person will have access to medical information and authorization to speak to doctors when they are still able to make their own medical decisions.

Even though the death of a spouse is a dreadful time, their surviving spouse should seek legal advice. An experienced attorney can help guide them and update documents and plans.

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