Clients often come in bewildered about what they need to do with bank accounts and other assets after a spouse has passed away. People are always the most concerned about the home.
The good news is that there is usually very little to do. Spouses typically hold most of their assets “jointly.” This means that both are equal, complete owners. If you and your spouse held your checking account jointly, it is now yours – just like that, there is nothing you need to do. Same goes for stocks, CD’s, the home, anything that you held jointly.
As for assets that your spouse held is his name alone, you will need to take some steps. If your spouse held a small bank account in his name alone, usually going to the bank with a certified death certificate will be enough, and the bank will issue the funds to you. As for anything with a beneficiary listed, like IRA’s, 401(k)’s, and life insurance policies, you will need to obtain the appropriate forms from the financial institutions, mail them in with a certified death certificate, and they will issue a check with the proceeds.
Typically a will does not need to be probated when one spouse passes away. It’s a good idea to meet with an elder law attorney. Bring in a list of all the assets you both hold, with copies of bank statements and other proof of ownership, and the attorney will help you sort out what needs to be done. Yesterday I met with a client for just one hour and he walked out feeling confident in his understanding of the few steps he has to take to square away his deceased wife’s assets. That’s one hour well spent.
See my next blog on steps you need to take to protect yourself, now that you are single.