Planning for the death of a husband or wife is probably one of the most challenging tasks any spouse could experience, especially if it’s due to a sudden and severe illness or condition.
There are all sorts of questions that need to be addressed. What kind of funeral do they want? How would they like their obituary to read? How would they like to be remembered? All too often, these sorts of questions don’t get talked about until it’s too late. It can become even more challenging when planning one’s estate. Legal questions of inheritance and taxes come into play and can often take what is already a difficult situation due to the long, drawn-out process of settling affairs.
While how to handle a funeral or obituary are very personal decisions that vary from person to person, preparing the estate of a loved one can be taken care of a little more quickly by following specific steps that would apply to almost anyone. The sooner this is taken care of, the more time you can spend with your loved one before they go.
Here are some common steps to take to get your spouse’s affairs in order.
It’s always best to start with clearly knowing what you and your spouse have and what you might owe.
Walk around your home and create a list of all items of value. This would not only include jewelry, antiques, collectibles, and vehicles, but also home electronics such as televisions and computers, and even items such as lawn care equipment and power tools. Try to be as complete as possible. If there are any items you or your spouse wished passed on to someone else, make sure to note that.
Next, create a separate list of financial assets or other entitlements. This list would include bank accounts, life insurance policies, 401(k) accounts, IRAs, and brokerage accounts. You may also wish to have other policies such as homeowners, disability, health, and automobile insurance. Make sure this list includes all applicable names and account numbers. You may also want to specify where the physical documents for these accounts sit and any contact information for the entities that hold these financial assets.
Finally, compile a list of debts. Include mortgages, auto loans, open credit cards, lines of credit, anything purchased on a payment plan, and all other current obligations with your financial assets, including account numbers, locations of signed agreements, and any relevant contact information.
While this seems like a lot of work, much of this is information you should already have. All you’re doing here is cataloging everything in one place. When you’re finished, date and sign your lists, then make at least three copies—one to keep, one to turn over to your estate administrator, and one to keep in a safe place such as a safety deposit box.
Review all financial accounts and insurance policies that have designated beneficiaries. Make sure the beneficiaries are as your spouse intends. If there is a will that designates benefits to specific people, be aware that the listed beneficiary designations in these accounts will likely take precedence. This is particularly important if either you or your spouse has been divorced or remarried and if there are children involved from previous marriages.
If any information needs to be changed, do not hesitate to contact the relevant institutions to get everything up to date.
Many financial assets have to go through probate before being distributed, whether as part of a will or if someone dies without a will. This process can take time and potentially add to the disruption many people experience after the death of a loved one.
However, some financial accounts can be created or amended to include a transfer on death (TOF) designation. These would consist of bank savings, individual brokerage accounts, and CD accounts. With a TOD designation, beneficiaries can receive assets without going through probate first. Contact the financial institution that manages these accounts for information on setting this up.
Everyone adult should have a will, but too many people wait until the last minute, and then it’s too late. Dying intestate—without a will–can delay how an estate is managed and distributed and cause undue stress on survivors. Note that a will does not allow an estate to avoid probate. If your spouse has a valid will, a probate judge will still need to review it to ensure that it is valid and executed correctly.
It’s highly recommended you meet with an estate planner to help sort out these details sooner than later.
While you’re at it, use this time to determine who will administer the estate. This person’s responsibility is to take care of the estate following the instructions left in the deceased’s will. It’s often the surviving spouse who takes on these duties. That said, it’s not unusual to assign someone with a less-emotional connection with the deceased. This can often be the better choice as it will place less strain on the surviving spouse’s mental and emotional state.
Probate can be a drawn-out and expensive process. However, with the help of a qualified estate planning lawyer familiar with Ohio law, it’s possible to use estate planning tools such as TOD designations, beneficiary designations, trusts, and other asset management strategies to minimize the assets required to go through probate.
A popular way to avoid probate in Ohio is to use a trust. This creates a separate legal entity that owns one’s assets and which are then managed by a trustee. You could create a few different types of trusts, so it’s best to consult with an experienced attorney to explore these options further.
Every state has its own laws that determine how assets are distributed following someone’s death. According to Ohio’s laws, when someone passes away without a will, the property is distributed as follows:
Following those conditions, the rules break down a set line of more distant relatives such as aunts or uncles, cousins, etc. On the off chance no living relatives can be located, the estate goes to the state of Ohio.
No one enjoys planning for the death of a loved one. Just the same, waiting too long can cause unnecessary problems and extra grief.
For these reasons alone, it’s in your best interests to seek out the advice of qualified estate attorneys who have the experience and knowledge to guide you through the process.
The expert teams at Heban, Murphree & Lewandowski, LLC are standing by, ready to answer your questions and guide you through the process of preparing for the death of a loved one, so when the time comes, you’re ready, and you can manage your loss without extra stress. (419) 662-3100