Four Things Your Spouse Should Know Before You Die

Friday, February 9, 2024

It is normal for married couples to share almost every aspect of their lives with each other. But when it comes to death, even the closest couples might become tight-lipped about certain topics. According to one recent study published by The Times, half of all couples fail to discuss their dying wishes. 1

Death is final for the departed. For the surviving spouse, death can leave unanswered questions. As uncomfortable as it might be to discuss subjects like burial arrangements and remarriage, they should be broached as part of creating a comprehensive estate plan. Seemingly mundane details, such as the location of important documents and contact information, should also be addressed.

Location of Important Documents

Older couples tend to commingle their finances. Among baby boomers, having only joint accounts is the norm. Millennial and Gen Z couples, however, are more likely to keep their money separate. 2

When couples do have joint accounts and property, it is not uncommon for one spouse to handle all financial matters. Fewer than one in four couples report that both spouses have an equal role in managing household finances. 3

When one spouse is the “money person” in the relationship, it can create issues in both life and death. To avoid unnecessary stress, couples need to ensure that they are on the same page. For day-to-day finances, this can mean regular check-ins about charges, expenditures, and budgeting. With regard to estate planning, couples should keep each other informed about the location of important documents such as the following:

  • Estate planning documents
  • Life insurance paperwork
  • Loan documents
  • Financial account information (e.g., savings, retirement, and investment accounts)
  • Usernames, passwords, and other information for accessing digital accounts and assets

Bear in mind that laws differ state to state.  In “community property states,” spouses equally own almost everything acquired during marriage, including money, property, or debt. However, if both spouses file special marital property agreements, they can keep certain things separate. In “common law” states, spouses are allowed to own property separately, and are only considered jointly responsible for accounts and properties listed under both spouses’ names. Keep in mind that even in places where the law usually says married couples own everything together, there are exceptions. Things like the money and property they had before getting married, or things one of them inherits, are usually still theirs alone, not shared.

Keeping finances secret — and separate — may be legal under state law, but this can still raise estate planning issues between couples that deserve discussion. A spouse with separate accounts and property might have separate accompanying estate planning documents. If this is the case, it's important that the other spouse knows about these separate estate plans to help sort things out when one passes away.

Contact Information

A spouse will often be the first person to find out about their partner’s passing. After that, there may be an established list of whom to contact next on a need-to-know basis.

The surviving spouse is likely to have a good idea of who should be contacted and in more or less what order. It may not be particularly important whether an older sibling is informed before or after a younger sibling or vice versa.

Yet it should not be assumed that a husband or wife has access to these individuals’ phone numbers. Nowadays, most contact information is stored in a personal device, not a Rolodex. To ensure that this information is accessible, it can be listed in a separate document. Alternatively, each spouse can give the other their phone’s login credentials.

Outside of immediate family and friends, a spouse could be unsure about whom to get in touch with. Extended family, a religious leader, club members, professional contacts, and, if the deceased was still working, their employer may need to be contacted as well. Some people might be named in the will and require inheritance notifications.

Keeping a spouse apprised of relationship statuses, whom to get in touch with, and how to get in touch with them about end-of-life wishes are small but important estate planning points.

Burial Arrangements

Arguably the most morbid thought about death is what to do with someone’s remains. At the same time, following a person’s burial preferences is a way to ensure that they receive an appropriate send-off. There are various dignified ways to honor a person’s wishes.

More Americans are choosing to be cremated instead of having a traditional burial. 4  If cremated, a person may wish to have their ashes scattered in a favorite place. In the case of a burial, they may opt not to have an open casket. There are also natural burials (being buried without a casket) and funeral services without a body present. About 20,000 people donate their bodies to science each year. 5  

The law typically allows the surviving spouse to make final decisions on memorial arrangements if the deceased did not leave specific wishes. As unpleasant as it can be to discuss burial, cremation, or donation, doing so can offer the departed — and the surviving spouse — peace of mind that this most personal of decisions is honored.


Wedding vows famously contain the phrase “’til death do us part.” But what about after death? Are couples still obligated to obey their promise of fidelity?

While personal beliefs may differ, it's widely accepted that a spouse who is widowed is free to remarry. In today's world, where many marriages do not last, the notion that a widow or widower should not find a new partner is commonly seen as outdated. 6 However, it's interesting to note that fewer people choose to remarry as they get older, and this is even more true for bereaved spouses, compared to those who are divorced. 7

A spouse may be okay with their partner remarrying in the event of death, but still wish to protect their assets from any new marriage. In this case, estate planning can help. The use of a qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trust, for example, can provide for a surviving spouse while protecting children’s inheritance from the surviving spouse’s new spouse.

If there are no children involved, or if one spouse simply trusts the other to do whatever they want with the money even if it benefits the new spouse, special estate plan provisions might not be necessary.

Regardless, remarriage is a topic worth discussing. Couples may not be on the same page about remarrying, and they don’t have to be. Couples that have separate finances are free to do with their share what they want. One spouse could be okay with remarriage and do nothing, while the other is against remarriage and sets up a trust to protect their accounts and property.

Show Love with a Thorough Estate Plan

Our passing can create complications for those we leave behind. Not having an estate plan takes control over your accounts and property out of your family’s hands and gives it to the state. But an incomplete plan can cause problems too.

To ensure your loved ones are taken care of, contact our office and schedule an appointment. Visit this page to learn more about estate planning, and how Pavone Law Group can help. Small estate planning gaps can raise big questions that leave a person’s legacy in doubt. It is never too late to revisit and update an estate plan while you are alive. But unresolved estate issues taken to the grave could haunt your loved ones. Estate planning is a gift to your spouse, and the best way to take care of them when you are no longer around.

  • [1] Rosemary Bennett, Half of Couples Fail to Discuss Dying Wishes, Times (London) (May 12, 2014),
  • [2] Lorie Konish, Joint vs. Separate Accounts: How Couples Choose to Handle Finances Could Impact Their Financial Success, CNBC (Mar. 7, 2022),
  • [3] Happy Couples: How to Avoid Money Arguments, Am. Psych. Ass’n (2015),
  • [4] Jazmin Goodwin, More Americans Are Choosing Cremation over Traditional Burials, Survey Finds, USA Today (Jan. 24, 2020),
  • [5] Justin Sherman, Inside the Largely Unregulated Market for Bodies Donated to Science: "It's Harder to Sell Hot Dogs on a Cart," CBS News (Mar. 23, 2023),
  • [6] Leslie Reynolds, Remarriage Rate in the U.S.: Geographic Variation, 2019, Bowling Green State Univ. (2021),
  • [7] Remarriage After Bereavement, OnlyYouForever, (last visited Aug. 30, 2023).

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