What Needs to Happen after a Spouse Dies?

Making funeral arrangements, paying medical bills and closing down accounts are just the start of the tasks that a surviving spouse must take charge of, advises the recent article “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse” from U.S. News & World Report. It can be overwhelming, especially with the intense emotions that come with such a large loss.

Having a checklist of specific tasks may make this difficult time less stressful. This is because you will be able to see what has been accomplished, and what is yet to come.

Start by getting organized. Make a list of what you need to do and add to it as you think of new tasks. You should also track what you are doing, using a notebook to keep a record of who you spoke with and when. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask a family member or trusted friend. Being organized is a big help, when there are so many things that need to be done during such a hard time.

Review your spouse’s will and estate plan. Gather all the documents, from their last will and testament to insurance policies, trust paperwork and related documents. Call your estate planning attorney, since she can help you with settling the estate.

Identify the executor. If you are the executor, then you are the person in charge of managing the estate, including distributing assets. If someone else has been named, contact the person and be sure they are still willing and able to undertake the responsibilities.

Obtain original death certificates. All of the financial, legal and property matters will require an original death certificate, with a raised seal. It’s easier to have more than you need, so order ten to fifteen.

Talk with other professionals. The financial advisor, CP, and insurance broker, in addition to the estate planning attorney, will need to know that your spouse has passed. You will also need to notify the Social Security Administration. If your spouse was receiving benefits, depending upon when in the month they died, you may need to return money.

Avoid any big decisions. This is not the time to sell the house, move to another state or make any other large decisions, unless you must for financial reasons.

Carry out your spouse’s wishes. There is comfort in carrying out your loved one’s wishes. Giving money to a charity as per the will’s direction or handing a prized possession to a family member who will treasure it can be heartwarming, since it reminds you of the values that your spouse held dear.

Take time for yourself and your loved ones. Mourning and healing from loss are not easy times. Take the time to process the loss and grieve with other family members. Find comfort from those you love.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 28, 2020) “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse”

 

What Is a Fiduciary and a Fiduciary Duty?

First, a fiduciary duty is the requirement that certain professionals, like attorneys or financial advisors, work in the best financial interest of their clients. By law, members of some professions with clients are bound by fiduciary duty.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “What Is Fiduciary Duty?” explains that in a fiduciary relationship, the person who must prioritize their clients’ interests over their own is called the fiduciary. The person getting the services or assistance is called the beneficiary or principal.

You will frequently see a fiduciary relationship with certain types of professionals, like attorneys and financial advisors. A fiduciary duty is a serious obligation, and if a fiduciary doesn’t fulfill his or her duties, it’s known as a breach of fiduciary duty. Fiduciaries must act in a beneficiary’s best interest. They have two main duties: duty of care and duty of loyalty. Fiduciaries may have different or additional requirements, depending on their industry.

With the duty of care, fiduciaries must make informed business decisions after reviewing available information with a critical eye. Lawyers must act carefully in performing work for clients. Care is determined by the prevailing standards of professional competence in the relevant field of law and geographic region. To abide by the duty of loyalty, fiduciaries must not have any undisclosed economic or personal conflict of interest. They can’t use their positions to further their own private interests. For example, fiduciary financial advisors might adhere to the duty of loyalty by disclosing recommendations from which they’ll receive a commission.

Other common professions or positions that require fiduciary duties include directors of corporations and real estate agents, as well as those discussed below:

Trustee of a Trust. When you want your assets to transfer to someone after you die, you can put them into a trust. The trustee who’s in charge of the trust has a fiduciary duty to manage the trust and its assets in the best interests of the beneficiary who will one day inherit them.

Estate Executor. The person who manages your estate and handles your affairs is your estate executor. He or she has a fiduciary responsibility to your heirs and next of kin to distribute the estate according to your wishes.

Lawyer. Your attorney must disclose any conflicts of interest and must work with your best interests in mind.

Financial Advisors. Financial advisors who are fiduciaries must act in the best interest of their clients and offer the lowest cost financial solutions to fit their clients’ needs. However, it important to note that not all financial advisors are fiduciaries.

Reference: Forbes (July 28, 2020) “What Is Fiduciary Duty?”

 

What Is Involved with Serving as an Executor?

Serving as the executor of a relative’s estate may seem like an honor, but it can also be a lot of work, says The (Fostoria, OH) Review Times’ recent article entitled “An executor’s guide to settling a loved one’s estate.”

As an executor of a will, you’re tasked with settling her affairs after she dies. This may sound rather easy, but you should be aware that the job can be time consuming and difficult, depending on the complexity of the decedent’s financial and family situation. Here are some of the required duties:

  • Filing court papers to initiate the probate process
  • Taking inventory of the decedent’s estate
  • Using the decedent’s estate funds to pay bills, taxes, and funeral costs
  • Taking care of canceling her credit cards and informing banks and government offices like Social Security and the post office of her death
  • Readying and filing her final income tax returns; and
  • Distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will.

Every state has specific laws and deadlines for an executor’s responsibilities. To help you, work with an experienced estate planning attorney and take note of these reminders:

Get organized. Make certain that the decedent has an updated will and locate all her important documents and financial information. Quickly having access to her deeds, brokerage statements and insurance policies after she dies, will save you a lot of time and effort. With a complex estate, you may want to hire an experienced estate planning attorney to help you through the process. The estate will pay that expense.

Avoid conflicts. Investigate to see if there are any conflicts between the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate. If there are some potential issues, you can make your job as executor much easier, if everyone knows in advance who’s getting what, and the decedent’s rationale for making those decisions. Ask your aunt to tell her beneficiaries what they can expect, even with her personal items because last wills often leave it up to the executor to distribute heirlooms. If there’s no distribution plan for personal property, she should write one.

Executor fees. You’re entitled to an executor’s fees paid by the estate.   In most states, executors are allowed to take a percentage of the estate’s value, which can be from 1-5%, depending on the size of the estate.  In Massachusetts, there is no statutory fee; a Personal Representative (the term for executor under Massachusetts law) is allowed a reasonable fee.    However, if you’re a beneficiary, it may make sense for you to forgo the fee.  Not only can it cause rancor among the other beneficiaries, which are likely close relatives, but also because the fee is taxable income reported on your federal and state annual tax return.

Reference: The (Fostoria, OH) Review Times (Aug. 19, 2020) “An executor’s guide to settling a loved one’s estate”