Article by Kaylee Wagner
Photo by Renáta-Adrienn on Unsplash
This week is National Estate Planning Awareness Week and at MFA we figured there was no better way to celebrate than giving you some quick tips to make sure everything is accounted for in your estate plan. All too often when a spouse passes away you hear that the widow(er) is struggling to keep track of the things that their partner "just took care of". So while you may have all of the necessary documents drafted it's also important to know what kinds of things should be taken care of in the event of a death of your loved one. Please use the following list from Principal as a base point and tailor your own to reflect the needs of your own situation.
- 1. Call your attorney-There are several legal and financial considerations once a loved one has passed. Work with your attorney to better understand the process and the laws within your state.
- 2. Contact the Social Security Administration - Depending on circumstances, survivor benefits could be payable to you. This isn't something you can do online. To report a death or apply for benefits, call 800-772-1213, or visit your local Social Security office.
- 3. Locate the will- Generally, it’s filed with an attorney, or in a lockbox or safe deposit box. Contact the attorney for a reading and to settle the estate.
- 4. Notify your spouse’s employer- Find out about benefits due to beneficiaries. Check on retirement or pension plans. If you or your children were covered through your spouse’s medical insurance, ask about continuing coverage. Notify your employer, too, since death of a spouse may be a “life event” that could trigger benefit decisions.
- 5. Ask your spouse’s former employers.- Items to check on: life insurance policies, a pension, an old 401(k), or other benefits.
- 6. Check with the Veteran’s Administration- If your spouse served in the military, learn what benefits might be due to you.
- 7. Notify all insurance companies, including life and health- Ask them to send claim forms and instructions (or online links.) It can take weeks to receive funds, so try to get started as soon as possible.
- 8. Change all property titles- Remove your spouse’s name and update insurance policies, such as auto and homeowner’s.
- 9. Change titles on all jointly-held bank, investment, and credit accounts- Close accounts that were in your spouse’s name only or change the accountholder information.
- 10. Send a letter to all three major credit bureaus- Get a copy of your spouse’s credit reports so you’re aware of all debts. (The three major credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.) Ask to have a notification in the credit report that says “Deceased—do not issue credit,” so new credit is isn't taken out in their name.
- 11. Notify your accountant/tax preparer- Taxes for your spouse should be filed for the year of death, and any taxes should be paid. Since there could be complicated issues, it may be best to have a tax professional help you.
- 12. Call the financial aid office if you have a child in college- Depending on the school and your financial situation, your child may qualify for more assistance.
- 13. Work with a financial professional.- A financial professional can help you update your financial plan based on benefits you’ve received, create a budget for your new income and expenses, revisit your retirement plan, and weigh any decisions about cashing out investments.
Not only do you want to follow this guideline from Principal, but you will also want to make sure that you have the month to month bills in order and have the login information for investment, banking and online bill pay. Having a list of what needs to be taken care of and when can help take the burden off of your loved ones shoulders in the future. We hope you use this information and come up with a plan that will help in this difficult situation.