Losing your spouse can be one of the most challenging events to go through. Not only is the surviving spouse in mourning, but there are often immediate next steps they need to take, such as notifying loved ones, planning a funeral, and other tasks. Unfortunately, many of us do not realize that there are legal matters to take care of. While every situation is unique, the following outlines the next steps to take care of estate legal matters after a spouse passes away.
1. Determine if you need to go through probate
Within a few days or a couple of weeks after your spouse dies, you should determine whether a probate is necessary. Take a look at real estate titles, bank account titles, brokerage account titles, and vehicle registration or titles. If assets such as these are in the name of your deceased spouse, you may need to see an attorney about conducting the probate to handle these frozen assets and remove your deceased spouse's name from them.
2. Obtain death certificate
The official statement from the state that states the cause of death, date, and place of a person's death is called the death certificate. You can usually obtain a death certificate through the state or county vital records.
3. Complete beneficiary designations
Once death certificates arrive, be sure to handle those beneficiary designation items, such as annuities, life insurance, IRAs, and other retirement accounts.
4. Review their will or trust, or the joint trust you may have created together
If your spouse or you and your spouse created a living trust, there might be no probate necessary. But some joint living trusts require that the joint trust assets be split into two upon the first spouse's death.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. But, if you need guidance, get the right guidance. And while you may not want to make major financial and contractual decisions immediately, it is prudent to handle matters related to your spouse's death promptly.