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Estate Planning – For the Inexperienced

Married Couples Should…

Take Key Steps Review Accounts and Assets

– Hire an estate attorney. They will aid in drafting and updating wills.

– Build a relationship with a financial advisor both you and your spouse have confidence in.

-Ensure each spouse gives executor permission to manage assets

-Set up bank and other financial accounts a surviving spouse may need immediate access to in both spouse’s name or as ‘transferable on death’.

-This is important because some types of accounts in one spouse’s name alone tyically go through probate and may not be immediately accessible.

-When the first spouse dies, his or her estate is required to use assets held in the deceased spouse’s name alone to settle his or her debt.

-Assets held jointly or in survivor’s name alone are protected from debt collection.

A Surviving Spouse Should…

Take Key StepsLocate Accounts and Assets
– Order a minimum of 15 copies of the death certificate to use to re-title financial accounts.

-Contact the estate attorney, accountant, and financial advisor.

-Gather all household financial statements.

-Retrieve electronic statements from the deceased spouse’s email account.

-Start the probate process by having the executor submit the death certificate and any existing wills to the court.

-File with Social Security for a $225 death benefit.

-Consult with your financial advisor about claiming monthly Social Security survivor benefits.

-Re-title household bills in your name.

-Change beneficiaries on your retirement or other accounts if necessary.

-Update your will as needed.

-Create a new financial plan with your advisor so that you can better understand what you own and owe. This will aid in making better long-term decisions.
-Call the deceased spouse’s employer, if he or she was working. If so, inquire about 401(k), pension, stock options, life insurance, and the cost to continue health coverage under the company plan.

-Present the death certificate and proof of identity to gain access to deceased spouses’s IRAs, 401(k)s, and life insurance.

-Look for statements in the mail for accounts that don’t traditionally show up on tax returns, such as, pensions, IRAs, annuities, and 401(k)s no one is contributing to or taking withdrawals from.

-Ask for free help if you believe your spouse was entitled to a pension from a company you are unable to locate. Sources include the Labor Department and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

-Search for missing life insurance and annuity contracts in the “Life Insurance Policy Locator Service” sponsored by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners or in your state’s unclaimed property fund.

Source – “Moving Forward On Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows”, Kathleen Rehl

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