There’s nothing that can prepare you for the loss of the spouse. Whether it came as the result of a long illness or happened suddenly, losing your spouse can leave you devastated and confused as what your next steps should be.
To make the process a little more bearable, it’s wise to have a checklist available to guide you through the process. Staying focused will keep you calmer, and can save you time and money. Having an action plan also helps minimize family squabbles, hurt feelings and a litany of other emotions that can arise at times like these.
Obtain a Death Certificate
You’ll need multiple copies of your loved one’s death certificate. These can be found at the vital statistics office in your area, or they can be obtained online. You should get certified copies, and at the very minimum order ten. You may need even more than that. These copies should be certified, and will cost a nominal fee.
Just about everyone involved with the estate will request a copy of the death certificate. This includes all financial institutions, investment companies, governmental agencies and membership organizations.
Obtain Letters Testamentary
Before you can take action regarding your spouse’s accounts, you will need to prove that you have the authority to do so. You will need to obtain multiple copies of letters testamentary, which can be obtained through your local courthouse.
If your spouse did not have a will, the court will issue letters of administration. When these are issued, you will be considered that administrator of the estate.
Contact Your Lawyer
Many people hesitate contact their lawyer in an effort to save money. This is a time where you need a lawyer most, and having legal guidance can literally save you many of thousands of dollars. It can also be smooth out the process of handling the estate, minimize any liability, and provide you with much needed support at a very difficult time.
Collect Important Documents
The last thing that you need to be doing at a time like this is frantically searching for documents. It’s always a wise idea to keep all important documents in a central location for times such as these. Some important documents you need include:
- All estate plan documents
- Investment statements
- Insurance records
- Tax returns
- Bank statements
- Mortgage statements
Notify All Relevant Entities
All affected entities should be notified of your spouse’s passing including:
- Social Security Administration
- Insurance companies
- U.S. Post Office
Apply For Any Benefits Due Survivors
There will be some investigative work to be done here. For instance, contact your insurance companies and see if premiums have already been paid. If so, you may be entitled to a refund.
If your spouse had life insurance, notify the company of your spouse’s passing. This process is general straight forward, and may result in a large pay out. A word of caution here. Because family members are grieving and not themselves, often this money is spent carelessly. It can be akin to winning a lottery, at a time when you aren’t thinking straight. A good rule of thumb is to not make any significant expenditures for a period of six months after your spouse passes.
Remember you are not alone at this difficult time. Consult a knowledgeable and experienced estate planning attorney to guide you through the process and give you peace of mind.
What To Do Next
Estate planning can be deceptively complex. Not only do state and federal laws change, but every family situation is different. Seemingly small choices in how planning is done can have profound tax and family implications, and not having a plan in place can be worst of all.
Our team offers clients a No Hassle Trust and Estate Strategy Meeting, where they get experienced guidance on how to achieve total asset protection, long term security, and peace of mind for themselves and loved ones.
Call (855) 904-REAP for a free consultation.