How to Write a Will for a Widow

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

How to Write a Will for a Widow

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

Married couples and partners often tackle estate planning together. Whenever they experience significant life changes, a couple should review and revise their wills. Death changes the financial circumstances of the surviving spouse; her assets change, and the beneficiaries of her will change.

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Dying Without a New Will

Typically, each spouse leaves the majority of their assets to the other spouse upon death. When one spouse dies, an existing will may leave assets to a secondary beneficiary upon the death of the second spouse. If the original one does not name a secondary beneficiary, assets will pass pursuant to the state's laws of intestacy upon the death of the second spouse.

As a result, assets would pass to her children. If she has no children, assets would pass to parents or siblings. If the widow remarried, assets pass to the second spouse. Be sure to understand how the assets pass, and to which family members. Laws may vary depending on your state.

Drafting a New Will Before Death

After her spouse dies, a widow has possession of the marital property and any other property inherited from her spouse, including the proceeds from any life insurance policies. If you're a widow making a new will, you must move forward with the new circumstances of your estate.

Evaluate your new financial situation by taking inventory of your assets. Remove your deceased spouse as a beneficiary. You'll also want to consider other beneficiaries. For example, if a beneficiary received property from the deceased spouse, it may no longer be appropriate to include that beneficiary. You can then leave specific pieces of property to specific beneficiaries, if appropriate. You can also leave property for beneficiaries to divide and share.

Naming a Guardian for Minor Children

When both parties are alive, it is common to assume one spouse will be responsible for minor children in the event of the death of the other parent. However, now that one parent has died, you must give careful consideration to naming a guardian for the minor children. If you do not name a guardian in your will or other estate planning materials, a court will name a guardian for your children. This situation can cause significant disagreements among family members and sometimes results in the naming of a guardian you would not have selected. Consult with potential guardians before naming them. Name individuals as guardians, instead of couples, to avoid future complications.

Upon the death of a spouse, the widow must not rely on a previously drafted will. You should review yours after any significant life change, including a death of a spouse. Inheritance from the death of the first spouse results in beneficiaries no longer being appropriate in the event of the death of the widow. You must name new primary beneficiaries and appropriate guardians for minor children if one parent has died. It's never pleasant to think about what happens after your death, but having a new will in place ensures assets can pass pursuant to your wishes.

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