You should always seek the help of your attorney immediately. However, here are some helpful steps that can help you streamline the estate settlement process while you are attempting to ensure that your spouse's wishes are honored, your needs are met, and estate planning mistakes are avoided.
1. Wills, Trusts and Related Documents
Locate and review your spouse's legal documents. If your spouse was previously married, divorce settlement documents or child support orders may identify his/her obligations.
2. Property Deeds, Titles and Documentation
Locate and review deeds and titles to real property such as cars and boats.
3. Financial Accounts, Assets and Liabilities
Identify your spouse's financial assets and obligations, including checking, savings and brokerage accounts, pensions, retirement programs and life insurance. Obligations include mortgages, auto and personal loans and unpaid credit card balances.
4. Employer-Sponsored Plans
Contact your spouse's employer to learn about retirement plans (profit sharing, pension, 401(k), 403(b), ESOP) in which (s)he was participating.
Research and apply for any Social Security, medical or other benefits that may be available to you as a surviving spouse.
6. Tax and Legal Advice
Meet with the estate's executor or attorney, if appropriate, to discuss legal and tax issues associated with settling the estate.
For further information on the role of the Executor, see our Executor Checklist.
7. Insurance Policies
Identify and review all insurance policies (e.g., life, home, auto, and personal property) your spouse owned and notify the respective companies of the death. Many carry additional benefits in the event of accidental death—some life insurance policies may double the policy coverage amount. Contact the insurance companies to ensure that the property will still be covered while you manage your spouse's affairs.
8. Notification of Credit Card Companies
Notify your spouse's credit card companies of the death and cancel his/her cards. Be sure to ask whether there are any death benefits associated with the card. Many companies provide accidental death insurance, which pays off credit balances in the event of a death.
9. Transfer Assets to Beneficiaries
Contact all the institutions holding the financial assets you've identified. Each will have its own set of requirements on how to transfer assets to beneficiaries. Most will require copies of a death certificate.
Whether you are planning for the future or need help now, Chatterton & Associates are for you. Our advisors have years of experience planning and helping navigate the ins and outs of estate planning. Contact us today and learn how we can be of assistance.