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Monday, March 10, 2014

Priorities following the death of a spouse

When a spouse passes away, their surviving spouse usually has a pretty tough time trying to cope with everything. Shock, grief, and fear all complicate the fact that the surviving spouse has to deal with tons of unfamiliar paperwork. Recently, financial coach and insurance specialist, Jane Blaufus, came up with a list of 10 things to do when a spouse passes away. Click here to read the list. 

I don't necessarily disagree with the items on the list. In fact, I find it to be a thoughtful and useful list. However, my feeling when reading the list is that it sounds as if the person doing all of those steps already knows his or her legal position with regard to financial assets, family arrangements, and inheritance. I only wish that all people were really that well informed. I can't even tell you how many times I've met with a widow or widower who believed their state of affairs to be completely different than it really was.

I've met people whose spouses never changed the paperwork that named previous spouses as beneficiaries. I've met those who thought their spouse had made a will or bought life insurance or put the house in joint names, but were wrong. Then there are the dozens who didn't realize that their spouse's business or cabin was neck-deep in debt. And let's not even get into the complications arising from blended families.

Ms. Blaufus does mention, near the bottom of her list, going to see a lawyer if there may be a dispute. If I could add to her list, I would advise to see an experienced estate lawyer after your spouse passes away, even if you don't expect a dispute. Find out where you stand. Is the house yours? What do you have to do to change the title? Is there insurance? Does the will leave the estate to you? I think this conversation should take place before you try changing the name on any assets. 

The time after losing a spouse is hard enough without getting blindsided by legal issues.


1 comment:

  1. My dad passed away suddenly, just a couple weeks ago. My mother, his spouse, was included as a joint owner on a small bank account as well as their matrimonial home. We are having a little difficulty trying to straighten out a financial matter with respect to the vehicle that my dad had financed a couple years prior to his death. There is a balance on the loan and an amortization period of 5 years and 1 month left to pay. As my father was over 70 years, he was not eligible for life insurance. My mother does not have a license and cannot obtain one due to medical reasons. We are wondering about returning the vehicle and whether or not my mom will be held liable for an balance that may be left owing on the loan. My father was the sole borrower and my mother did not have any ownership of the vehicle...she is not included in the registration nor is her name assigned to the loan. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Just in case you need to know, my parent's home is registered in both their names and they have a small investment account which is held jointly as well. That's their only assets other than the contents of their home.

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