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Estate Planning: Your Family, Your Wealth, Your Legacy.

What To Do After Spouse Dies

September 11th, 2015 by Antoinette Bone

Many find themselves at a loss regarding taking care of a loved one’s legal and financial matters after death. This post walks through the steps, including locating the loved one’s will or living trust document; conducting an inventory of assets and liabilities; and attending to life insurance and Social Security benefits.

Postmortem affairs

What you need to do after a family member’s death

Bob had always leaned on his brother, John, in times of hardship. After the deaths of their parents it was John who took care of the funeral arrangements and put their estates in order. Now, after John’s death, Bob is at a loss as to what needs to be done to take care of his brother’s legal and financial matters. If you find yourself in this situation, here’s what you need to do.

Will or living trust document

Your first step is to locate your loved one’s will or living trust document. Places to look include safe deposit boxes, safes or strongboxes, or filing cabinets. Next, contact the attorney who drafted your loved one’s will or living trust and make an appointment.

If the attorney can’t be identified or the deceased didn’t have one, an attorney should be retained by the personal representative (aka executor) named in the will and/or the trustee of the living trust. Further, if you find that your loved one died without a will or living trust, consult legal counsel about steps you should take to initiate court administration of the estate.

If assets pass under a will, the deceased’s personal representative should consult legal counsel about initiating probate proceedings. If you’re named as the personal representative, remember that you have no authority to act on behalf of the estate until a court accepts the will as valid and appoints you to act in that capacity.

If the deceased had a living trust, the trustee can begin managing the deceased’s affairs immediately, without the need for court proceedings.  Trust administration is a private probate process.

Assets and liabilities

Assuming you’re the personal representative or trustee, you’ll need to conduct an inventory of your loved one’s assets and liabilities, paying particular attention to assets that may require immediate attention, such as life insurance policies, stock options and retirement plans. If probate is required, be sure your attorney moves quickly so the court can address the disposition of stock options and other time-sensitive assets.

Don’t pay any outstanding bills until you’ve inventoried all of the deceased’s assets and debts and compiled a complete list of his or her creditors.

Life insurance and Social Security

To file a life insurance claim, contact the deceased’s insurance agent. You’ll likely need to furnish the following to the life insurance company: a death certificate; insurance policy numbers and amounts; the deceased’s full name, address and date and place of birth; the deceased’s occupation and last place of employment; and the beneficiary’s name, address, age and Social Security number.

To apply for spousal and dependent benefits, contact your local Social Security office. You’ll need to furnish a certified copy of the death certificate; the deceased’s Social Security number, proof of age and marriage certificate; the deceased’s employer information, approximate earnings in the year of death and earnings records for the previous year; and Social Security numbers and proof of age for the deceased’s spouse and dependents.

Turn to a professional for help

Bob isn’t alone in not knowing how to handle the administrative matters after a loved one’s death. Many people turn to their estate planning advisor for assistance. He or she can help you get your loved one’s legal and financial affairs in order under difficult circumstances.

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