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Checklist for a Surviving Spouse

Losing someone close to you is one of life’s most painful experiences. If you are coping with the loss of your spouse and dealing with all the financial and legal details surrounding his or her death, it can be a time fraught with problems. While family and friends are invaluable for emotional support, you will benefit from the help of experienced professionals such as your clergy, funeral director, financial advisor, accountant, and attorney.

First, remember that you are in a highly emotional state. You should try not to make any major decisions; avoid signing any contracts and spending or lending any large sums of money. Here are some suggestions to help you organize and prioritize the steps to take after your spouse dies.

Locate and organize important documents.

  • The will: A will must be probated by the court. If there is no will, the North Carolina General Statutes determine how the property will be distributed. Make an appointment with the clerk of superior court and an attorney.
  • Certified death certificates: You’ll need original certified copies of the death certificate, not photocopies, for many purposes.
  • Court-certified letters: If the estate is being probated, the court will issue formal letters appointing the personal representative or estate administrator. Originals will be necessary to transfer assets.
  • Insurance policies and investment certificates.
  • Other Legal Papers: These may include birth and marriage certificates, military records, and divorce papers.

Notify all appropriate organizations. These may include:

Insurance Companies.
Social Security.
Veterans’ Administration.
Credit card companies.
Employers and/or business associates.

Next Steps.

  • Bills: It’s important to know your monthly bills and expenses. Also, determine if any bills are being automatically drafted from your checking account.
  • Checking Accounts: You will need to set up a separate estate checking account during the probate administration process. This account will pay the estate expenses.
  • Joint ownership changes: Are there assets (such as the automobiles, boats, trailers) that will be transferred to your individual name?
  • Investments: Investigate your spouse’s investments: stocks, bonds, annuities and mutual funds. Good sources of information may be your tax returns, bank statements, and consolidated investment account statements.

It may be a good idea to make a new will for yourself and to review your assets and investments.