Losing a spouse – or any loved one – is not something that people want to think about. However, we know from experience that our clients are not in the headspace to know exactly what to do if their spouse passes away.
Getting things in order today is going to be much easier than “figuring it out” in a worst-case scenario.
We’ve created a checklist that we can send to you to go through that will make some decisions a little easier if your loved one passes away.
Do you want the checklist? Give our office a call at: (919) 787-8866.
Note: We do want to mention that we took the approach of a spouse passing on, but these are very similar steps that you would take with other loved ones, such as a parent.
We’re going to go through quite a bit of topics, but we’re going to start with: cash flow.
Things to Consider If Your Spouse Has Passed Away
Cash flow really makes you look at where income is coming from and what you need to do now that your spouse has passed away. For example, you need to think through income sources, such as:
- Rental properties
- Social Security
- Investment income
There is a lot to consider on these items, including:
Often, we see cash flow issues with Social Security. You won’t receive both your own and your spouse’s Social Security, but you will receive the higher of the two. You may also be entitled to Survivor’s Benefits, but you can experience a drop in income on this end.
Required Minimum Distribution
Was the deceased spouse at the age of 73 (the age to take a required minimum distribution)?
In this case, you’ll need to take the required minimum distribution on behalf of your spouse if they didn’t take it before their passing.
If a pension was involved, was there a survivorship on the pension? Often, when you have a pension, there are multiple options. A single option is on the person’s life, but your spouse may have a survivorship benefit, too.
Normally, if a survivor benefit is available, your spouse will take a lower pension with the agreement that their benefits will pass on to their surviving spouse upon their demise. Survivorship benefits may be:
- 75% or 50% of the benefit
- For a predetermined number of years
Inquire about the pension and what your entitlements would be as a survivor.
If rental income exists, you need to know if there’s a manager involved and how to take control of these properties.
Investment income may have been taken out to add to your cash flow, and this is a source of income that we’ll be discussing in more detail below.
What expenses do you have each month? Where is the money coming from to cover these costs? You may need to adjust these expenses because losing a loved one is a major life-changing event.
Estate Settlement Issues
Many estate settlement issues exist and need to be thought through. First, did your spouse die with a will? If so, was there a living executor appointed? The executor will need to contact the attorney who wrote the estate plan or hire another attorney if the person is no longer practicing or alive.
An attorney will help you go through probate and make sure everything is done correctly.
If the only thing that is going to go through probate is a home that you own jointly, you really don’t need to worry much about this. Joint ownership makes it easy to transfer full ownership of the house to you.
Anyone reading this will want to make their surviving spouse’s or family’s lives easier by:
If you set beneficiaries, you can avoid probate.
Anyone who doesn’t have an executor listed for their assets will need to have one appointed to them to divide them properly.
What if you have more assets than you typically need?
If your spouse leaves you sizable assets, you can disclaim some of these assets to a child or grandchild. Why? These individuals may be in a lower tax bracket, so they’ll be taxed far less on the assets than you will be.
Retirement accounts that have ownership changes
Certain accounts will need an ownership change, which is something that you’ll need get done. For example, if you’re taking over your spouse’s 401(k) account, you’ll need to have the ownership of the account changed to your name.
Do you exceed estate tax guidelines?
Right now, as an individual, if you have $12.5 million from the estate, you’ll need to pay estate taxes. This figure is revised up to $25.8 million for a couple.
Possible unknown assets
If your spouse had credit card points or miles, you could have them changed over. Safety deposit boxes often can’t be opened until you’ve followed all probate rules, and don’t forget to search estate agencies and unclaimed property sites.
Update your estate plan
Normally, an estate plan ends up giving most or some of the assets to your spouse. You’ll need to review your plan and make changes now that your spouse is no longer living.
Digital asset considerations
Your spouse may have had digital assets, perhaps they owned digital currency, and this can be transferred to you.
Insurance is the next big category to consider because you need to know if your spouse had life insurance. This type of insurance is a tax-free transfer and is one of the nicest forms of assets to receive. You need to know if your spouse had life insurance, and the amount of life insurance your spouse carried.
If your spouse was still working, they may have life insurance through their employer. This benefit often goes away if your spouse has retired.
Veterans may have death or burial benefits.
Was the death accidental or work-related?
Often, benefits may be received or lawsuits filed if the death occurred on the job or was accidental.
Is there a minor involved?
If your spouse has a minor child or dependent, Survivor Benefits may kick in earlier for the minor.
You should take an inventory of all insurances that your spouse may have had because they can provide substantial financial relief.
Taxation never seems to go away, and can potentially impact you in the following ways after the loss of a spouse.
On your primary home, you can have up to $500,000 in capital gains. If you sell a home for $1 million, only $500,000 is hit with capital gains. However, if you’re single, the capital gains exemption falls to $250,000.
If you want to sell your home, you’ll want to be sure that you follow the rules.
If you had a joint-owned rental property, you’d receive a step-up in basis for the portion that your spouse owned. We have a nice flowchart that outlines this.
Did your spouse pay taxes on all their income for the year?
If not, you’ll need to make sure that these debts are satisfied.
Did you file taxes as married filing jointly?
You can continue to file like this in the year of your spouse’s death.
Do you have any dependent children?
If so, you might be able to qualify for widower’s tax filing status for up to two years after your spouse’s death.
Investment and Asset Issues
You may come into issues with investments and assets that were in your spouse’s name. It’s important to know:
- Where were these accounts or assets held?
- Did your spouse have 401(k) or IRA accounts? If so, were there any beneficiaries attached to them?
Spouses have options, which often allow you to combine your spouse’s retirement accounts with your own.
If your spouse owned a business, you need to learn about buy sell agreements or buyout agreements that exist. There may be other assets, such as annuities, which may be transferred to your name.
Working with an accountant to help you through all these tedious tasks is recommended.
Final Things to Think About
While the list above is not exhaustive, it does provide you with a good starting point for your checklist of things consider now to have a better idea of what to do after your spouse’s death. A few additional things that you’ll want to think about are your spouse’s:
- Email accounts
- Social media accounts
- Driver’s licenses
You’ll also want to notify the credit bureau that your spouse has passed away.
You don’t want someone to steal your spouse’s identity. It also makes sense to change their passwords on accounts that you do keep open.If you have any questions about the topics above or want to receive our full checklist, feel free to reach out to us at (919) 787-8866 or schedule a call with us.