Caring for a seriously ill spouse is an emotionally exhausting time of life.  But, at this time it is particularly important to talk about healthcare wishes and getting an estate plan in order.  When your spouse is seriously ill, the pain is increased by the anticipated loss of your life partner.

Whether you can make updates to your estate plan will depend to some extent to your spouse’s current prognosis. An elder law attorney should be consulted, particularly if it has been some time since you last updated your estate plan.  The attorney will advise you as to whether there are any changes that can or should be made.

Your Fiduciary.

Review who has been named in your estate documents as the executor or trustee of your spouse’s estate.  The role of the fiduciary is important upon the death of your spouse.  Make sure you are still comfortable with the currently named fiduciary and that he or she is still appropriate.  Such a review is applicable for the health care proxy and powers of attorney, too.

Your Assets.

What will be the effect on your assets when your partner dies?  Jointly held assets will automatically pass to you upon your partner’s death.  Of more concern are assets that are in your spouse’s name alone without a specific “transfer on death” beneficiary named.  Also see if any assets have been transferred to a trust.  Answers to these questions will determine how easily you can gain access to these assets upon your spouse’s passing.


If a trust exists and assets are in the trust or will pass to the trust upon death, those assets will be controlled by the trust document.  It would be wise to determine who the beneficiaries are, who will control those assets and how distributions from the trust are to be made.


The Will determines the disposition of assets for property solely in your spouse’s name unless there is a specific transfer on death beneficiary.  Review the Will to determine whether it will require probate to settle the estate.


Retirement accounts and life insurance policies always have designated beneficiaries.  Over time situations change and the beneficiaries of these assets may or may not still be appropriate.  It is best to have an elder law attorney advise you on how to get these documents brought up to date and get your estate plan in order.

While the idea of losing your spouse is painful, careful estate planning will reduce the stress and, perhaps, avoid wasting money from the estate.