Heard in the Office: “My Mom Named Me ‘Executor’ in Her Will and the Court Sent Me Some Paper about Being ‘Personal Representative.’ I Don’t Get It.”
July 31, 2012
Huge vocabulary switch, it’s going to take all of us a very long time to get used to. This spring, the legislature cleaned out 200 years of laws concerning how we probate wills and estates and replaced those laws with a brand new set called the “Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code” (MUPC).
One of the many (many!) changes under the new MUPC is basic vocabulary. The person that you name in your Will to manage everything after you die is no longer called an “Executor” but instead a “Personal Representative.” So even if your parent named you “Executor” in her Will, the papers you receive from the court will use the term “Personal Representative.” Same job, just a new name.
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?
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.