My Spouse Died – What Do I Need to Do to Protect Myself?

July 24, 2009

After a spouse dies and the family gets through the funeral, the immediate concern is to square away the couple’s assets and make sure the surviving spouse has enough to live on. After that, there is one more step to take: protecting yourself.

One area where you need to be proactive is to consider who will be able to assist you with financial and health matters if you become ill or incapacitated. Before, you and your spouse relied on each other to serve in these roles. Now you need to legally appoint someone to be able to step in and help you. At this point, you definitely need to execute a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. And many people like to add a child to their bank account so she can easily help with paying bills. See my blog post on how to do this appropriately (don’t add her as a joint owner!).

If you go to see your elder law attorney after your spouse has passed away, in addition to helping you transfer your spouse’s assets to your name, she will also help you put in place these fundamental documents that will serve to protect you, should you ever become unable to handle your affairs or medical decisions yourself.

My Spouse Just Died – What Do I Need to Do with Our Assets?

Filed under: Probate — Tags: , , , — Alexis @ 10:53 AM

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.

Who Decides on the Burial of a Decedent?

July 10, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Tags: , — Alexis @ 2:15 PM

Many of us have clear wishes on whether we want to be buried or cremated, and some of us have very clear ideas of what kind of funeral we want or where we want our ashes scattered. But from a legal perspective, who gets to decide?

Surprisingly, not you. A spouse has authority to direct the type of funeral, where the decedent will be buried, whether organs will be donated, and more. Absent a spouse, the decedent’s “next of kin” have control. This means the children, and if there are no children, then the parents, and if there are no parents, then the siblings.

In order to have the type of funeral or cremation you want, or if you want to donate your body to science, you need to be sure your family knows your wishes. If you think that there will be arguments, put your instructions in writing. A frequent example is disagreements between kids and the decedent’s second spouse. Actually, written instructions are a good idea even if you are not concerned about disagreements.

An even more secure way to remain in charge of your final disposition is to make pre-arrangements yourself with a funeral home. Share the prepaid contract with your family so they know exactly who to call when you pass away, and the service and burial or cremation will be just what you requested. I wrote a post on prepaid funerals earlier.

If It Sounds Too Good to be True…

July 9, 2009

Filed under: Elder Abuse — Tags: , — Alexis @ 9:50 PM

Right in our own backyard, another financial planner has been charged with scamming seniors. His pitch was that his investments would allegedly earn guaranteed 12% returns – not bad – and not likely. Further, he allegedly implied that these investments were safe; Bill Galvin’s office says they were patently risky. Regardless of how these charges turn out, the lessons remain  - be very wary of whom you invest your money with, research it well before writing a check, and most importantly, if it sounds too good to be true, ….

Why Should I Arrange for a Pre-Paid Funeral?

July 6, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Tags: , — Alexis @ 2:05 PM

Money. It’s that simple. You’ve probably been there yourself – when a loved one dies, emotions are high, guilts and old “I’m sorry’s” never said come rushing to the surface, and the family stumbles into the funeral director’s office and ends up spending a lot of money on a very nice funeral.

If you instead plan your funeral now, you give your family several gifts: first, they don’t recklessly spend on an event that lasts just a few days and instead will have more money to use for support, education, and other important parts of living. Second, you spare them the raw emotions involved in choosing a funeral – guilt, regrets, arguments among family members, and more. Instead, they will have more space and time to begin grieving you, which is a necessary process for emotional health.

Additionally, you have made your wishes known, so you are reducing the chances of your family doing something other than what you would want.

Finally, a prepaid funeral can be part of a prudent MassHealth planning process. If an individual is entering a nursing home and asking MassHealth to foot the bill, the individual can have only $2000 to her name and the spouse only about $115,000. If a couple has more than this, then in order to help come down to the requisite monetary limits, it financially makes sense to use some of the excess funds to pay for a funeral, since there is no doubt that this is something that would inevitably have to be paid for. The same logic applies for a single person.

Support the Arc on the Full Moon!

July 2, 2009

Filed under: Special Needs — Tags: , — Alexis @ 12:42 PM

The good folks at Margaritas in North Weymouth hold Full Moon Margarita Madness every month on the night of the full moon – and donate 5% of the evening’s take to a local organization.  For the rest of the summer, they are hosting the Arc of the South Shore.  So swing on by Margaritas on July 7, August 6, and September 4 for a fun time, with lots of prizes and giveaways.  Thank you Margaritas for hosting the Arc!