Losing a spouse is a difficult and emotional time for any individual. Unfortunately, it is during this stressful period that the estate for that spouse requires administration. Many married couples create so-called “sweetheart” or “I love you” estate plans that leave all assets to each other. Even in these cases, however, there is still some work that needs to be done in order to administer the estate.
7 Estate Administration Steps After a Spouse Dies
What tasks may need to be done after a spouse dies? The following is an overview:
- Obtain certified copies of the death certificate. You will likely need these during the administration process.
- Attend to the funeral and burial arrangements for your loved one. Carefully review his or her estate planning documents to determine whether specific wishes were outlined.
- Determine whether any estate tax is due from your deceased spouse’s estate. Typically, no tax is due until the second spouse dies. However, there are situations where an estate planning technique may have been utilized to take advantage of one spouse’s estate tax credit at the time of his or her death. If so, an estate tax return may still need to be filed.
- Determine which assets, if any, were held in your spouse’s name alone.
- Initiate probate proceedings to transfer assets to your name if there was no trust in place and your spouse owned assets solely in his or her name. Assets that were held jointly with survivorship rights, assets that had beneficiary designations, and assets that were held in trust will transfer automatically under the terms of those instruments.
- Contact relevant financial institutions, the Social Security Administration, and any other organization that requires notice of your spouse’s death.
- File your spouse’s last income tax return if you did not file your taxes jointly.
Since this is just a general list of common tasks that are required after the loss of a spouse, it is important to consult with an attorney before beginning the estate administration process. The unique facts and circumstances for each estate may necessitate the need for different tasks, and some tasks may not be required at all. Fortunately, you do not have to navigate this process alone. We are here to help, as we have helped many other clients in the past. We encourage you to check out our client testimonials page for more information.