General Information for the Surviving Spouse
The time immediately following the death of a spouse can be overwhelming, with grief and bereavement complicated by a seemingly endless number of tasks. The immediate days following the death will be focused on the funeral or memorial service arrangements. Soon after, however, various financial and legal issues must be addressed. Many people find it very difficult to be sure they have taken care of everything. The following is a list of tasks that are likely to need attention. It is not a complete list of everything that you will need to do but it will get you started.
Request 10-15 copies of the death certificate from your funeral director, because many agencies and companies request a copy.
Ask relatives or friends for assistance.
Cancel any medical or support services and doctor appointments
After the funeral
Send thank you notes, if you desire, to those who attended the funeral or sent a card.
Pay all normal household bills.
If you had a joint bank account with your husband it will automatically pass to you. Check with the bank representative to change the title and signature card on the account. If the bank account was held in your husband's name alone, ask your bank representative for guidance.
Follow on Actions
Locate your husband’s will. It will most likely be with other family documents. Your family lawyer may have the will, or it may be in a safe deposit box or with your husband’s personal belongings.
If your husband did not have a will, (this is referred to as dying "intestate"), contact a Probate Attorney or the Clerk of Court in the county of residence. This should be done within 30 days if possible. See “Probate” below.
Note: Your own will may need to be updated if it passes assets to your husband.
Locate insurance policies
These may be found in a safe deposit box or with your husband’s personal belongings. The policies could include:
You should contact all insurance companies as soon as possible to file claims and also to update the beneficiaries on the policies. Life insurance proceeds can generally be paid directly to the named beneficiary
Mortgage or loan insurance
Credit card insurance
Various types of insurance provided by your husband's employer
The title of your car(s) may need to be changed. Contact your County Clerk’s Office. Notify your auto insurance company of the changes. Contact the leasing company if the car is leased.
Stocks and Bonds
If you had a joint investment account with rights of survivorship, you will be able to access the account. Check with your financial advisor.
If your husband had a qualified account or IRA the proceeds will pass to the listed beneficiary. You should see your financial advisor to ensure the funds transfer is done in a tax efficient manner. If done improperly you could pay more taxes than necessary.
It is generally recommended not to immediately remove your husband’s name from your credit card accounts unless you have established credit in your own name. Wait 6 months to open accounts in your name only.
Check whether any of the credit cards had a life insurance policy. If so file the appropriate forms provided by the credit card company.
Cancel any credit cards that were held exclusively in the name of your husband. Any payments due on these cards should be paid by the estate.
Check with your local Social Security office or call 800-772-1213 to determine if your husband was eligible for benefits. If your husband was already receiving benefits, do not deposit any checks after the death; contact Social Security.
Note: Even if your husband is not due benefits, Social Security needs to flag the file so that no one can use the number under a false identity.
Federal Income Tax
Federal income taxes for you and your husband are due for the year of death. They are due on the normal filing date of the year, unless an extension is requested. The spouse of the husband may file jointly for the year of death. Contact the local IRS office or your tax advisor.
Federal Estate Taxes
A federal estate tax return must be filed and taxes paid within nine months of the date of death. Contact the local IRS office or your tax advisor.
Florida has no income, gift, or estate tax. Additionally, there is no Florida intangible tax after January 1, 2007.
Probate is the process of paying your husband's debts and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries. This process begins with the court appointing someone to administer the estate. The will usually names the executor; if there is no will, or no executor is named, the court will appoint a "personal representative," usually a spouse or relative. This person will need to pay a filing fee, inform interested parties, especially creditors, that the estate is being probated, make an inventory of assets, and dispose of the estate according to the will or state laws. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, legal assistance may be required.
Property in which your husband and someone else are listed as owners is not part of the probate estate. Proceeds from a life insurance policy or IRA which are paid directly to a beneficiary are also not subject to probate.
Reprinted by permission of its author: Eric A. Stein, CDR USN
Blinded Veterans Association Florida Regional Group