“Unfortunately, during the grieving process surviving spouses also need to navigate the complex financial issues that arise after the death of their partner.”
The death of a spouse is one of life’s most stressful events and is an overwhelming experience. Having to deal with life’s legal and financial aspects while grieving is a challenge, says a recent article, “What To Do After The Death Of A Spouse,” from Forbes. One thing to note: all tasks don’t have to be done at once.
What does need to be done promptly is making funeral arrangements, notifying family and friends, and alerting your estate planning attorney. Other immediate steps include:
- Obtaining multiple copies of the death certificate
- Asking a friend or relative to watch the house during the funeral. Burglaries often occur during funerals, when burial plans are public.
- Arrange for any pets to be cared for.
There are a number of things to avoid as well. Letting grief and fear delay important actions can lead to larger estate problems. Don’t neglect to contact Social Security to report the death and monitor tax and other deadlines. Don’t start giving away assets, whatever persistent family members may say. You’ll need to go through the estate process properly. Assets are not distributed until all other tasks have been completed.
Legal and financial documents must be gathered and reviewed, including bank statements, investment accounts, retirement accounts and beneficiary designations, life insurance policies, estate planning documents and outstanding debts or liabilities.
Bills need to be paid. This can become problematic for the surviving spouse. For example, were the bills paid from joint accounts, your account, or your spouse’s account? Do you have a list of all accounts? Is it okay to pay a joint bill from your bank account? Do you need to change regularly made payments formerly made from your deceased spouse’s account to your account?
Hopefully, you and your spouse had the right estate planning documents completed beforehand. Next, contact your estate planning attorney to discuss the will and any trusts. Assets owned by your spouse only will likely go through probate. Assets with beneficiary designations, like retirement accounts or life insurance policy proceeds, will go directly to the beneficiaries. Read more about beneficiary designations in our articles: What If Account has No Named Beneficiary? and Does a Beneficiary on a Bank Account Override a Will?
The surviving spouse needs to file taxes for themselves and the deceased spouse by April 15 of the following year. Discuss with your estate planning attorney whether or not you’ll need to file a federal or state estate tax return, which is due nine months after death. Note that these may need to be filed even if no tax is due. Also, remember that you do not have to go through this process alone. Contact Las Cruces Estate Planning Attorney Michele Ungvarsky for guidance on the necessary steps to take now; she and her team will walk with you compassionately through this difficult time.