Knowing what to do after a spouse has died can be overwhelming.
The marriage relationship is a unique relationship.
You have made a covenant with another person to love them no matter what life throws your way.
Your spouse will see you at your worst and best through life’s good and bad circumstances.
According to a recent Forbes article titled “What To Do After The Death Of A Spouse,“ few people imagine life after the death of a spouse when they get married.
Even so, in most cases, one spouse will precede the other in death.
As a result, one spouse will need to navigate life without the other.
Unfortunately, this often means taking necessary actions after the other spouse has died while still overwhelmed with grief.
Having a list and expectations of what needs to be accomplished can make this feel less overwhelming.
What steps should be taken immediately after your spouse has died?
First, family and friends should be notified.
It is also important to tell your estate planning attorney about the death.
Multiple copies of the death certificate should be requested and obtained.
Funeral arrangements need to be made promptly.
Although most friends and relatives will be at the funeral, you should ask a trusted friend or neighbor to watch your home during the ceremony.
Because obituaries often publish burial arrangements for the public, homes are common targets of burglaries during this time.
If you have pets, you will want to coordinate someone to provide care for them while you make arrangements.
Although grief after a spouse has died, can feel overwhelming, postponing certain actions can have harsh consequences.
You will need to contact the Social Security Administration to report the death of your spouse.
There will also be deadlines for taxes and other legal matters.
The one thing you should delay is asset distribution.
This must be done with the oversight of the probate court and is settled after other tasks are completed.
To settle an estate, you should gather financial and legal documents like estate planning documents, life insurance policies, retirement account information, investment account information, bank statements, and information regarding outstanding debts and liabilities.
Bills must still be paid after your spouse has died.
Depending on your role with the finances, this could prove challenging.
Did your spouse handle everything?
If yes, you must find a list of accounts and determine what funds were used to pay each bill and whether you need to change payments to your account.
In the best-case scenario, you and your spouse had comprehensive estate planning in place.
Contact your estate planning attorney to discuss the documents and next steps.
If your “estate planning” attorney does not also handle “probate or trust administration,” they will refer you to an attorney who does.
That is our approach in our “estate planning” law practice, as “planning” and “administration” involve different skill sets.
The transfer of assets held solely by your spouse, without a surviving joint owner or designated beneficiary, will be governed by their last will and testament.
Consequently, that last will must be presented to the local probate court to begin estate administration before distribution.
Other assets like life insurance policies and retirement accounts likely have beneficiary designations and pass directly to those listed on the policies and accounts.
A tax return will still need to be filed whether your spouse died early in the year or at the end of the year.
This is often required even if no tax is due.
Be sure to consult your tax preparer, including whether to file a Form 706 Estate Tax Return to take advantage of “portability” to maximize future death tax savings.
Life is often challenging and overwhelming after a spouse has died, but knowing what needs to be done can help minimize the stress associated with the unknown.
Reference: Forbes (April 20, 2023) “What To Do After The Death Of A Spouse“