If you are reading this because you recently lost a loved one, we are so incredibly sorry for your loss. We know that this is likely one of the hardest times in your life, and one of our objectives is to help you navigate this and minimize your overwhelm.
We get a lot of calls from people who have just lost someone. It is tremendously difficult to tackle administrative tasks, like estate matters, when you are grieving. Here’s the good news – you probably don’t need to do anything right away.
Almost invariably, we encourage clients who call in the days immediately after a death to simply get through the funeral before they worry about anything else. It is rare that there is ever a need to do anything estate-related faster than that. If estate planning was done in advance, it is even less likely that there will be a need to do anything particularly quickly.
Here are a few FAQ’s that might be helpful to you during these difficult days:
1. My spouse just died – what do I have to do?
Probably nothing. You are going to be handling tasks like signing paperwork with the funeral home. They will need you to make decisions regarding burial vs. cremation (if your spouse didn’t make those ahead of time) and funeral details. The funeral home will generally report the death to social security, so in most instances, there will be no need for you to call them right away. It will take a few days before you can get death certificates – sometimes longer if an autopsy is required or cause of death is inconclusive. Know that you will probably have to make a trip back to the funeral home to pick those up.
At this stage, we don’t recommend that our clients call any of their financial institutions or lenders until we sit down after the dust settles. There will be calls to make and details to sort out when the time is right, but you do not have to spend the days after you lose your spouse on the phone.
2. I am not on any of our bank accounts and I need to pay bills – what do I do?
If you don’t have access to your accounts, you’ll need to get court authorization before you will be able to legally access them. This can happen quickly in most cases. There are strategies intended to help a surviving spouse in short order. Communication can be helpful here – we find that most companies will make an exception (waive late fees, etc.) for special circumstances.
3. Since my spouse had a Will, isn’t that enough for me to take control of his/her bank account?
No. Until the Will is admitted to probate and an Executor is appointed, the Will is not enough to get you access to accounts that were just in your spouse’s name.