What a Surviving Spouse Should Do After a Husband or Wife Dies

No one likes to think about this stuff, but we all should. Executors of estates; trustees of trusts; and surviving spouses all need to know what to do when someone (like a spouse) dies.

One of the first things to do is to contact your estate attorney to get the estate transfer process started. Your lawyer should be able to help you throught the process. He or she should tell you, for instance, to carefully review the death certificate to make sure it's correct. If the name is mispelled or social security or birth date wrong -- that can cause lots of frustration later when trying to get things like life insurance proceeds paid out.
If your spouse had a pension; notify them of the death. And, find out (if you don't know already) whether your spouse's pension plan has a survivors benefit feature. If it doesn't, then don't spend any pension money that continues to be paid into the bank account because the pension plan will likely later come back to collect that money.

Don't pay any major bills before talking to your attorney. Some bills might not have to be paid -- llike credit cards or legal judgements in the name of the deceased only. Other debts will have to be paid out of the estate (not directly from you).

Powers of Attorney expire upon death. So, anything you have done (like write checks from his or her account) based on a power of attorney -- you can't do anymore.

Also, be careful not to make major decisions too soon. Immediately after a loved one's passing, there is lots of emotion that could cause a bad decision. Selling the second car is not a big deal. But, selling a house or giving away substantial life insurance proceeds (thinking you won't need them) may be decisions you regret later. It's important to let life settle down a bit so you come to better understand how life will be without your spouse; how much it will cost to live, etc.

You will also need to re-do your own estate planning documents. You probably left your own estate to your spouse and gave him or her your power of attorney or health care proxy.

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