When spouses die

My most common question from potential clients is “my husband (or wife) died, what do I have to do?”

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it is going to depend on how property is held and whether there is a will, and what the will says.

Most often, the surviving spouse is listed as a co-owner on bank accounts, deeds, and is named beneficiary on life insurance contracts. The easiest thing to do in those cases is simply provide a copy of the deceased spouses death certificate to the bank, the agent, and record the death certificate in public records. It may very well turn out that there is no need for probate if all of the property passes directly to the surviving spouse.

There may be some property that does not pass directly; in which case probate will be necessary. How expensive and how complicated probate is going to be is going to depend upon the facts; it may be simple, quick and relatively cheap; it may be involved and fairly expensive. You need to talk to a lawyer at this point and let the lawyer figure out what needs to be done.

Once in a while, there is a nasty surprise for the surviving spouse; either the deceased spouse cut the surviving spouse out of the will entirely or transferred assets away from the surviving spouse outside of probate; typically by naming a child or other person as pay on death beneficiary. If this has happened to you then you need to talk to a lawyer who handles probate and you need to talk to them now. There are certain things that should be done quickly; there are some things that may be able to be done to avoid the transfer entirely or to elect against the estate and recover some assets; but it is critical that you talk to a lawyer about what can be done, and do so promptly. The worst thing you can do is ‘sit on your rights’ and not take action.

If you have a question about your rights as a surviving spouse in or around The Villages, Florida please feel free to contact my office.

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