Considerations when a spouse passes away

When a spouse passes away it sends your life into turmoil. There are many responsibilities that must be attended to such as the memorial services, notifying family and friends, and confronting legal, tax, and financial issues. A support group of family and friends are important to tap during these times.

Most people think everything must be done immediately but that is usually not true. The memorial service and notifying family are the most important immediate concerns and to give yourself time to grieve and honor the departed spouse. I would then schedule an appointment with your financial representative/banker, CPA/accountant, and an estate planning attorney.

Typically, the funeral home notifies Social Security/Medicare. This stops Social Security deposits for any month the deceased spouse did not live the full previous month and Medicare supplement insurance. Social Security benefits for the surviving spouse are complicated depending on the situation, so it is important to contact Social Security.

When clients come to me, I gauge the level of what their knowledge of their legal and financial affairs, and what I need to guide them to do going forward. Issues such as outstanding bills/debts; automatic deposits/withdrawals that may need to be stopped; filing a claim on a life insurance policy on the life of the deceased spouse; contacting property and casualty (home/auto) insurance companies; contacting the VA (if spouse was a veteran) of any potential benefits or claims; contacting financial people regarding transfer of accounts solely into the name of the surviving spouse, and handling transfer of retirement accounts and investments to the named beneficiaries; freezing the deceased spouse’s credit; and contacting past employers for potential death benefits, are all possible tasks that need to be tackled.

It is important to lean on your professional advisors. They have the training and experience to guide you through the process. From the estate planning attorney’s perspective, it must be ascertained, how the deceased spouse had their affairs set up, including whether a properly executed Last Will and Testament was in place. Most spouses have everything joint such as their real estate, investments, bank accounts or have each other as beneficiaries on life insurance or retirement accounts go to the surviving spouse; including household goods acquired during the marriage that transfer automatically to the surviving spouse. But in Indiana, if you die without a Last Will and Testament (“intestate”) and any other assets were in the sole name of the deceased spouse without a beneficiary designation, then the surviving spouse may inherit much less than they expect; especially if the deceased spouse had surviving children and/or grandchildren.

If you have a spouse who has passed away, feel free to contact my office for a free private consultation to figure out the next steps.

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