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Charleston Estate Planning & Asset Protection Blog

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Broken Heart Syndrome and What It Can Mean for Your Estate Plan

When spouses pass away in quick succession, how might it impact the estate plan?

George and Barbara Bush had a storied romance spanning 73 years of marriage.  The couple met when Barbara was just 16 and George 17 years old. From then on, the couple went on to lead the country with immense class, becoming the longest married couple in presidential history. Barbara Bush passed away this past April with her husband by her side, and eight months later the nation mourned as George H.W. Bush died at the age of 94.  The couple’s passing in close succession is common for longtime married couples and is commonly referred to as “broken-heart syndrome.” It is important to be aware of the broken heart syndrome phenomena as it can also have implications on your estate plan.

Broken Heart Syndrome Explained

Broken heart syndrome is based both on statistics and traditional notions of romance.  Broken heart syndrome or the widowhood effect is thought to occur when one member of a long term couple passes away, followed quickly by the other spouse.  The quick succession is thought to be due to the couple’s tremendous love and interdependence on one another. Older couples who have been married for a long time are considered especially at risk of broken heart syndrome.

What many people fail to recognize is that broken heart syndrome can impact the couple’s estate plan, and in turn their heirs.  When a married couple passes in close succession, the terms of the will and other estate planning documents will control how the estate is to be distributed.  Wills and trusts may have a survivorship clause that requires the other spouse to survive for a certain period of time in order for the estate to transfer to them.  Should the spouses die in such quick succession that the survivorship clause is not met, then the estate may be treated as one spouse predeceasing the other. Rather than two different successions, the probate court may perform just one succession to the heirs.

When couples die like Barbara and George Bush did, with several months in between, the estate may first be transferred to the surviving spouse, then to the beneficiaries upon the death of the second spouse.  Each transfer can have tax implications, so you should plan with your estate planning attorney to minimize expenses and design a will or trust that allows for the most streamlined transfer.

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Wiles Law Firm, LLC helps clients with their estate planning needs in Charleston, South Carolina and the surrounding areas such as West Ashley, Summerville, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, and John's Island.

Information on this website is not legal advice. Further, viewing of the enclosed information does not create an attorney-client relationship with Wiles Law Firm, LLC. Matters will be handled by attorneys who primarily practice out of our office in Charleston County located at 852 Lowcountry Blvd., Ste. 101, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464. M. Emerson Wiles, III is the attorney responsible for this advertisement.

Any result Wiles Law Firm, LLC may achieve on behalf of one client in one particular matter does not necessarily indicate similar results can be obtained for other clients. Please contact a South Carolina estate planning attorney or one of our attorneys with Wiles Law Firm, LLC for a consultation regarding your unique estate plan.



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