EDMOND — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly series of columns written by attorneys at Lester, Loving & Davies law firm in Edmond.
Q: My husband died in June. We have a will from 1968. Do I need a new will now that he is gone?
A: Although joint wills — a single will for both husband and wife — are almost never used today, the practice was common through the 1970s. As a result, many people have older wills that cover both spouses. When the first spouse dies, the will remains legally effective for the surviving spouse. If you should die before doing a new will, the terms of your existing joint will should govern the disposition of your estate.
That said, you should probably revise your will. At a minimum, you should carefully review the terms of your will to make sure it is consistent with your current intent and desire. Things change over 40 years. Is any beneficiary named in your current will deceased? Have you had or adopted children since the will was executed? Do you want to provide for people who are not listed in your current will? Do you want to take anyone out? A periodic review of these issues is important for everyone. It is particularly relevant after the death of the first spouse.
You should consider taking other actions to reflect your new status as a widow. You may want to execute a durable power of attorney so that someone you trust can take care of your business if you become unable to do so. Most married couples execute powers of attorney naming each other as their attorney-in-fact. Now that your husband is gone, who will deal with your bank, the Social Security Administration and pay your bills if you can’t. If you have an effective power of attorney, the person you choose can help you with your business as the need arises. Without one, it may be necessary for your family or friends to seek a court imposed guardianship if you become disabled. You also should consider an advanced health care directive to name the proper person to make medical choices for you if you cannot make them yourself.
If you owned any real estate with your husband in joint tenancy, as most couples do, you need to file an affidavit of surviving joint tenant with the county clerk of every county in which real property is located. The affidavit will remove your husband’s name from the chain of title and accurately reflect your individual ownership of the property.