It's income tax season, but we're at an age where estate taxes, wills, and legacies are weighing on our minds. (Maybe these topics don't apply to you, dear reader, but perhaps they preoccupy older generations in your family.)
The WSJ published a to-do list
for surviving spouses, and we've found through recent experience that much of it applies to surviving children as well.
A SURVIVING SPOUSE SHOULD...
Take key steps
☑️ Order at least 15 copies of the death certificate to use to retitle financial accounts and settle the estate.
☑️ Contact the estate attorney, accountant and financial adviser.
☑️ Gather household bills and bank, brokerage, insurance, and credit-card statements.
☑️ Retrieve electronic statements from the deceased spouse’s email account or petition the email provider for access.
☑️ Start the probate process by having the executor submit the death certificate and any will that exists to the court.
☑️ File with Social Security for a $255 death benefit.
☑️ Consult someone who knows the rules for claiming monthly Social Security survivor benefits, based on the amount your spouse would have received. A survivor can claim as early as age 60 (or 50 if disabled).
☑️ Retitle household bills in your name.
☑️ Change the beneficiaries on your retirement or other accounts or insurance policies if necessary.
☑️ Update your will.
☑️ Create a new financial plan once you understand what you own and owe and are able to make long-term decisions.
Locate accounts and assets
☑️ Call the deceased spouse’s employer, if he or she was working, to ask about a 401(k), traditional pension, stock options, and life insurance and the cost to continue health coverage under the company plan.
☑️ Check the most recently filed tax return for the names of the financial firms that house the household’s accounts. Financial firms provide 1099s when bank, retirement and taxable accounts generate income, capital gains, dividends or interest.
☑️ Present the death certificate and proof of identity to get their share of a spouse’s IRAs, 401(k)s, and life insurance. (Be aware of the rules surrounding penalties before transferring money from a spouse’s 401(k) or IRA to your own.)
☑️ Look for statements in the mail for accounts that don’t show up on the tax returns, including pensions, IRAs, annuities, and 401(k)s no one is contributing to or taking withdrawals from. Because companies can lose track of former employees, call your spouse’s previous employers, too.
☑️ Ask for free help if you believe your spouse was entitled to a pension from a company you cannot locate. Sources include the Labor Department and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
☑️ Search for missing life insurance and annuity contracts in the “Life Insurance Policy Locator Service” sponsored by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners or in your state’s unclaimed property fund.