Husband and WifeUpon any family member’s death, especially your spouse, there is significant emotion that you will face, socially and psychologically. In addition, the financial implications of the loss of your spouse may be over whelming, especially if you were not involved in the management of the assets and finances in the past. Even with significant former involvement, however, there are likely additional matters that must be reviewed and addressed in order to properly attend to the ongoing and future paths you should take.

Following is a brief checklist to consider, in combination with speaking with your attorney, financial advisor, insurance agent, and accountant to be sure that all issues are being addressed:

1.  Contact Social Security to be sure that they are aware of the death, and consult with your accountant about steps that must be taken immediately and how this impacts your tax status in the future.

2.  Be sure to pay all funeral expenses in a timely manner to avoid any interest that may accrue, as very often, the funeral home may charge 1.5% per month (18% per year) on unpaid balances.

3.  Contact all former employers of the decedent to determine if there are any benefits available, be it life insurance, retirement plans, death benefits, etc.

4.  Be sure to verify the contents of your safe deposit box and see if there are any other assets that need to be attended to that were not listed on your income tax return, (such as stock that does not pay a dividend,) and have those assets reregistered or surrendered.

5.  Verify savings bonds to determine whether they should be cashed in or maintained, or if the names should be changed on those particular bonds.

6.  Before surrendering or cashing in significant life insurance policies, determine what interest rate the company will pay to continue to hold those funds, and do not make any decisions relative to investments until your team of advisors is consulted and reviewed.

7.  Verify annuities and other similar assets, but do not cash them in until other advisors are consulted.

8.  If there are private policies, such as long term care insurance, health insurance, etc., be sure to cancel the coverage and have refunds issued. Before doing so, be sure that your benefits are not being lost by the surrender.

9.  Assemble all records, such as marriage, death, VA, etc., as advisors and financial institutions may wish to see them. Often, these institutions will accept a copy after seeing the original, certified copy.

10.  Work with your advisors to determine whether your late spouse’s estate has to be probated, your must fund trusts, or it’s time to consider making gifts.

11.  Be sure to have your plan updated as soon as possible once you are ready to proceed, but again, no irrevocable, significant decisions should be made until a financial and legal plan is established, and that you are comfortable with that plan.

12.  Be sure to have all assets revalued to establish the new “tax basis” to minimize future capital gains.

13.  Continually meet with your advisors to be sure that probate is attended to as expeditiously as possible, and review all debts of your late spouse so you know which ones need to be paid and which ones should be postponed.

14.  Again, do not make any rash decisions, such as deciding to sell your home or liquidate portfolios, etc., until you are sure you are making the correct decision.

15.  Review all of your own needs, including financial, retirement, family issues, etc., before making decisions and consult your advisors for their input.

16.  Also, consider whether speaking with your family is appropriate, as they may be biased in advising you, such as whether you should move out of a geographic area or remain closer or further from them.

Naturally, if there are other issues, such as closely-held business interests, partnership interests, mineral rights, patent rights, etc., these will need significantly more attention to determine what, if anything, should be done with them.

The aforementioned is just a brief checklist of items to consider initially. You may wish to print this brief synopsis and keep it available with the rest of your other important papers, so in the event of your spouse’s death, you will be in a position to immediately take action regarding decisions that have to be made quickly. And most of all, consult your advisors ASAP.

Hyman G. Darling, Esq.


This post originally appeared on Bacon Wilson, P.C.'s blog entitled, "Estate Planning Bits."