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Money October 2016

Legal Ease

Vital To-Do List When Death Is Imminent

By Jonathan J. David

I know from having had to deal with my own husband’s death several years ago, that there are many things that she will need to address after he passes away, and I know that this will be an overwhelming burden for her to have to deal with. What might make this process easier for her?

Dear Jonathan: I have a friend whose husband is suffering from terminal lung cancer and is not expected to live much longer. As you can imagine, my friend is not handling this very well. Although she and her husband had the foresight to get their estate planning in order, I know from having had to deal with my own husband’s death several years ago, that there are many things that she will need to address after he passes away, and I know that this will be an overwhelming burden for her to have to deal with. Hopefully her attorney and other professional advisors will be able to help her through this process. Is there anything you can offer as a general summary which might make this process easier for her?

Jonathan Says: I am sorry to hear about your friend’s husband. You are absolutely correct that the things a person has to deal with after a spouse passes away can be burdensome and emotionally overwhelming. Hopefully she has a good team of advisors who will be able to help guide her through this process. Of course, her immediate concern would be arranging for her husband’s funeral and burial, and if he was a veteran, she should contact the local VA office to apply for any applicable VA benefits. After the funeral, she should:

  • Contact the Social Security Administration and apply for survivor benefits.

  • Meet with the attorney who prepared the estate planning documents to determine whether her husband’s estate needs to be probated, which would be the case if he died with any assets titled in his name alone. If probate is required, she should initiate probate administration with the attorney’s help. If no probate is required, but her husband had a trust, then she should initiate trust administration with the attorney’s help.

  • Notify her husband’s creditors and pay any undisputed bills for which his estate is legally responsible. If there is either a personal representative or a trustee involved, however, one of those fiduciaries should be the one to handle the payment of her husband’s debts.

  • Meet with the financial advisor(s) who managed their investments to determine whether her husband had any IRAs, annuities, or other tax-deferred investments of which she was named the beneficiary, and if so, review her options as to how to obtain her beneficial interests in those investments.

  • Apply for the benefits of any life insurance policy insuring her husband’s life of which she was named as the beneficiary.

  • Alert credit reporting agencies of her husband’s death.

  • If her husband was employed, contact the human resources department of her husband’s employer to determine whether there are any death benefits to which she is entitled and for which she should apply.

  • Retitle any assets that were titled in her and her husband’s joint names into her sole name.

  • Locate her husband’s user names and passwords to access computer online accounts.

  • Cancel her husband’s credit cards, club memberships, cell phone plan, magazine subscriptions, etc.

  • Cancel doctors and/or other appointments that have been scheduled for her husband.

  • Remove and replace her husband as the beneficiary of any of her investments such as life insurance policies, annuities, and IRAs.

  • Update her own estate planning documents for the purpose of bringing them current and removing her husband as a fiduciary and/or beneficiary, if necessary.

The above list is some of the more common matters that need to be addressed by a surviving spouse when his or her spouse passes away and is by no means meant to be exhaustive. I recommend that she meet with the attorney who drafted her and her husband’s estate planning documents as soon as possible so that attorney can address in more depth the various matters, some of which are time sensitive, that need to be addressed due to her spouse’s death.

 

Jonathan J. David is a shareholder in the law firm of Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith, PC, 1700 East Beltline, N.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49525.

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