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Estate planning for deaths in quick succession

Some Nevada residents may be familiar with couples who were married for a long time and then died within a few weeks or months of one another. This is sometimes known as "broken-heart syndrome," and it may have played a part in George H.W. Bush passing away just over seven months after his wife Barbara Bush died. In addition to the emotional toll, these deaths in rapid succession can cause problems with estate plans.

A trust or will may have something known as a survivorship provision that requires one person to live for a certain period of time after the death of the first spouse. Such a provision can allow both estates to pass through probate together. However, in a case like that of the Bushes, the gap was too long to allow for such a provision. In these cases, the surviving spouse should act quickly to revise the estate plan. The estate plan might also include a qualified disclaimer. This gives the beneficiary the option to refuse taking an asset.

Beneficiary designations can also be the source of problems. Since the spouse is usually listed as the beneficiary, if the surviving spouse dies without changing it, the asset could be rolled into the estate where it will have to go through probate. A common solution is for spouses to list their children as beneficiaries if they do not need the asset.

These considerations are not just for older couples. An accident can mean that even a young, healthy couple might die in quick succession. If they have children, it may be particularly important that the estate is structured in a way that allows funds to pass to them efficiently. They might want to discuss trust planning and other estate strategies with an attorney. A will can be used to appoint a guardian for minor children.

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