Do You Need Help with the Legal Stuff?
After the loss of a spouse it is important and necessary to manage all the legal stuff required by federal and state law. It is likely that you will require the help of an estate planning attorney (and often a tax professional, too) at some point, but there is much you can do yourself and with the help of Wings for Widows. If you did the essential estate planning ahead of time, settling your spouse's estate will be relatively straightforward; if not, you will have considerable work ahead of you.
Estate planning provides for an organized transition of assets from one to another after death. Not only does it allow you to leave your assets to those you intend to receive them, but it also helps to mitigate the financial and legal obstacles the surviving spouse must navigate. An estate plan generally includes the following:
Will or Trust, or both;
General Power of Attorney;
Healthcare Directive (aka Living Will and Healthcare Proxy)
Not only will these documents determine how the deceased's assets will be divided, but these same documents will need to be updated so they serve you. This is critical! It is probable that your spouse was your power of attorney; thus, you'll need to identify a new power of attorney to protect your interests should you become ill or incapacitated. It is also likely that you'll need to update all of your beneficiaries - on your life insurance, annuities, retirement accounts, and so on. It is not unusual that the Will and Living Will be updated, as well. We can advise you as your situation warrants.
You may be the Executor (or Personal Representative or Administrator) of your spouse's Will. If this is the case, you are responsible for carrying out his or her instructions as provided in the Will; this includes the management and distribution of the deceased person's assets. An executor's responsibilities are many, and you may need assistance with these duties and, in particular, when these duties involve probate.
Probate is a formal process for managing and distributing a deceased person's assets under the watchful eye of probate court. The proceedings occur in the state where the deceased person lived; if property is located in another state, probate may be required in that state, too. Some assets typically do not require probate, like jointly-owned property, POD and TOD accounts, living trusts, annuities and retirement benefits, and life insurance policies. Other assets, like those owned exclusively by the deceased, may require probate. Most people prefer to avoid probate for a number of reasons, and proper estate planning can often bypass probate entirely. You will need to check with us or an estate planning attorney to determine whether probate is necessary in your case.
What if there is no Will? When a person dies without leaving a valid Will, or intestate, state intestacy laws determine how the property will be distributed. The property is usually distributed to the surviving spouse and children. You will need to solicit the help of an attorney if there is no Will (or Trust).
There is more legal stuff to do. If you owned your home or other real estate or personal property (like an automobile) jointly - that is, with your spouse - you will need to update ownership by updating the deeds and/or titles. In most cases you can do this on your own, and we can advise you on the steps to take to properly transfer property.
If you would like our help or a referral to an estate planning attorney, please complete the form below and a representative will reply to you soon.