What To Do After Widowed

What To Do After Widowed  The death of a loved one is a traumatic experience, and losing your spouse or partner is even more so. Then, as you’re experiencing the range of emotions and grief that comes with that, you have to deal with the stressful and often overwhelming process of navigating probate or settling their estate. There is no doubt that it is a lot to handle and process all at once, but we find that breaking it down into steps can help. Whether you were married or in a committed relationship, you likely have shared assets and possibly some assets only in your partner’s name. Either way, these four steps will guide you through a difficult time.

  1. Check Title of Assets

The key to this step is determining if you’re an owner or a beneficiary of the various assets. This will help you get an idea of whether probate will be needed or not. Start with the big stuff, like locating the deed to your home and figuring out what names are on the bank accounts. Find any retirement accounts and check the beneficiary designation. For vehicles, see if you’re listed on the title or if a transfer on death designation names you as the beneficiary.

  1. Locate the Last Will and Testament or Identify Intestate Beneficiaries

What To Do After WidowedDid your spouse or partner have an estate plan? Locate the Trust documents or the Last Will and Testament. If they had a Will, first make sure it is valid. If it’s handwritten in their own handwriting, that would be valid as a holographic Will—no notary or witnesses needed. However, if they typed their Will, it must have two witnesses to be valid. If it is notarized and the only witness is the notary, then, unfortunately, that is not a valid Will in Arizona. If their Will is valid or if they had a Trust, check to see who is named as the executor, personal representative, or successor trustee. All of these terms are used for the role of who is in charge of the estate.

If their Will isn’t valid or they didn’t have one, then you’ll want to look up the laws of intestacy. These are the state laws that determine the beneficiaries for estates without a Will. If there are assets owned solely by your partner, then the probate court will follow the intestate laws to determine what happens to them. The probate court will also name the personal representative, which will likely be you or another close family member.

  1. Collect All of the Assets

What To Do After WidowedFor assets where you’re a joint owner, like real estate and bank accounts, you’ll want to get those transferred into your name individually. Financial accounts will require you to contact the bank and real estate often needs you to record a death certificate to remove your partner’s name from the title. You only have to do that if you plan on selling the house, but it’s a good idea to get titles cleaned up and record that death certificate. You will need to notify accounts with beneficiary designations, like retirement accounts and life insurance. Any accounts or titles solely in the name of the deceased will require probate to transfer those titles. At that point, we highly recommend contacting an experienced probate attorney to help you. There is a range of roles a probate attorney can play, whether you want them to handle the probate 100% or just guide you and let you handle most of it.

  1. Update Your Estate Plan

If you don’t have a plan, now is a good time to create one. It can be as simple as a handwritten Will, or more comprehensive with a Trust if you want to save your loved ones from probate. If you do have a plan, you need to update it. Remove your partner from your plan and make sure your beneficiaries are clearly stated. Also, update beneficiary designations on any financial accounts, such as retirement or life insurance policies. The key is to update or create an estate plan that makes it as easy as possible for your loved ones to manage your estate.

My team at Dana and Associates, LLC doesn’t just handle estate planning. We help families through Trust administration and probate every day. You don’t have to go through this alone, we’re here to help you.

Rilus M. Dana, J.D. is the Managing Partner at Dana and Associates, LLC.