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Estate Planning for a Surviving Spouse

As an estate planning lawyer in Folsom, I often advise clients who are surviving spouses. Estate planning for a surviving spouse is a critical aspect of ensuring the financial security, smooth asset transfer, and overall well-being of the surviving spouse after the other spouse’s passing. Here are key considerations and strategies for effective estate planning in this situation:

  1. Review Existing Estate Plan: If the couple had a joint estate plan or wills, the first step is to review and update them as needed to reflect the new circumstances.
  2. Ownership and Beneficiary Designations: Review the ownership structure and beneficiary designations on assets such as bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and real estate. Ensure that the surviving spouse is named as a primary beneficiary or owner.
  3. Spousal Rights: In many jurisdictions, surviving spouses have legal rights to a portion of the deceased spouse’s estate, even if not specified in the will. Understand the spousal rights applicable in your jurisdiction. In California, a surviving spouse can be disinherited, but only in accordance with strict guidelines. 
  4. Executor and Trustee: The designated executor and/or trustee will carry out the deceased spouse’s wishes and manage the estate. The surviving spouse can be named as the executor or trustee, or another trusted individual can fulfill this role.
  5. Probate Considerations: Evaluate whether the estate must go through the probate process and consult with an attorney to ensure a smooth probate administration.
  6. Estate Tax Planning: Depending on the size of the estate and applicable tax laws, there may be estate tax implications. In California, there is no state estate tax, but a federal tax is levied on large estates. 
  7. Guardianship for Minor Children: If the couple has minor children, the surviving spouse should address guardianship in the estate plan to ensure their care and upbringing in accordance with the deceased spouse’s wishes.
  8. Trusts: Trusts can be an effective tool for estate planning, providing control over the distribution of assets and protecting the interests of the surviving spouse. Consider establishing a trust or updating an existing one to accommodate the new circumstances.
  9. Long-Term Care and Retirement Planning: Evaluate the surviving spouse’s long-term care and retirement planning needs. This may include insurance, investments, and budgeting for future expenses.
  10. Social Security and Pension Benefits: Determine the impact of the deceased spouse’s Social Security benefits and pension plan on the surviving spouse’s financial situation. Surviving spouses may be entitled to certain benefits.
  11. Debts and Liabilities: Address any outstanding debts and liabilities of the deceased spouse, as well as the surviving spouse. Determine how these will be settled.
  12. Family and Beneficiary Discussions: It’s essential to have open and clear communication with family members and beneficiaries about the estate plan to minimize potential disputes.
  13. Review and Update Periodically: Life circumstances change, so it’s important to periodically review and update the estate plan to ensure it remains aligned with the surviving spouse’s current situation and goals.


Estate planning for a surviving spouse requires careful consideration of the surviving spouse’s financial needs, asset distribution preferences, and legal rights. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney in Folsom can help ensure that the plan is comprehensive and compliant with applicable laws, providing peace of mind for the surviving spouse and their family. If you have any questions about estate planning for a surviving spouse, contact Thapar Law at 916-579-0605 or send us a message

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