Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “A Checklist for What to Do (and NOT Do) After Someone Dies” provides some worthwhile information to help you if you are faced with a death in the family and must organize the next steps when your spouse dies. According to Beck & Lenox Estate Planning and Elder Law, only the first item below needs to be done quickly. The other items can wait a week or two, allowing you time to honor and grieve your loved one, and to just be with family.
Note: You may find it valuable to sit down and make a list of all important financial documents or accounts such as life insurance policies; bank accounts and any automatic monthly deductions; investment accounts, and health insurance and long-term care insurance policies, etc. That way, when you begin to contact the various companies, you will have easy access to that information.
Contact the funeral home. You need to make arrangements and ask them for 10 additional copies of the death certificate.
Contact Social Security. Your Social Security benefits may change after a spouse’s passing, so you’ll need to notify them. In some states, it may be the funeral home who notifies them for you.
Cancel their health insurance. If insurance is provided by the spouse’s former employer, you will need to contact them.
Contact the spouse’s pension company (if applicable). Depending on the pension plan option originally selected by your spouse, you may be eligible to get payments.
Contact the life insurance company and file a claim. This is a very easy process. Do this right away to receive the proceeds of the policy.
If your spouse was a veteran, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs. Check with the VA to see if there are any benefits payable to you.
Notify all your financial institutions. Contact banks to change account names; credit cards to remove spouse or close accounts; mortgage companies, insurance companies and all other important bills to change them to the surviving spouse’s name only.
Call your attorney. They can help with the process. For example, Beck & Lenox offers a complimentary meeting for the trustee to come in and review the basics of handling the administration of the estate.
Contact your CPA. You will need to discuss taxes for this year.
Contact your financial adviser. You will need to change account titles, file beneficiary paperwork for IRAs, 401k(s) and other retirement accounts.
Retitle assets. Assets like real estate or cars in the spouse’s name should be retitled.
Prepare and probate the estate. Among the next steps when your spouse dies, this can be the most complicated to handle. If the estate doesn’t qualify for simplified procedures, then the assets must go through probate. If you as the trustee do not feel comfortable handling the estate administration, ask an attorney like the ones at Beck & Lenox to help you. As mentioned earlier, clients of ours are offered a complimentary meeting to come in and discuss what needs to be done. See our page on estate and trust administration.
Reference: Kiplinger (Aug. 24, 2022) “A Checklist for What to Do (and NOT Do) After Someone Dies”