Please excuse the bluntness, but when your spouse dies you will need to address some legal and financial issues.
- You need to be prepared.
- Make this your starting point
Unless you have a written marital agreement that states otherwise, at the time of death your spouse will own 100 percent of his or her separate property, and an undivided one-half of the community estate. Ownership of that property has to be resolved and the burden will fall on you to do it. Property will transfer through one of 5 methods: survivorship agreement, beneficiary designation, a will, a trust or intestacy law. If you and your spouse had a joint account with a survivorship agreement, commonly known as a JTWROS account, then you own 100 percent the account upon your spouse’s death.
You will need to provide a copy of the death certificate to the institution to remove your spouse’s name from the account.
- If your spouse held an account, including a retirement account, in his or her name only, then the account will go to the beneficiary named in the account agreement. You will need to go into the institution’s website to get the forms and instructions to submit to change the account over to the named beneficiary.
- If your spouse had a life insurance policy insuring his or her life, then the policy will pay-out to the named beneficiary. You will need to go into the institution’s website to get the forms and instructions to submit to change the account over to the named beneficiary.
- If your spouse had a recorded Transfer on Death Deed on any Texas real estate, then you will need to file an affidavit and record it in the deed records of the county where the real estate is located.
- If your spouse had signed a beneficiary designation on a vehicle, then you need to follow the instructions on the TXDMV.gov website to transfer record ownership to the beneficiary. Note: you have 180 days after the owner’s death to get this done. If your spouse was the grantor, trustee or beneficiary of a written trust, then you should carefully read the trust to determine what needs to be done. If you owned real property in another state or country, then you will need to look to that state or country’s laws to determine how to transfer ownership.
- If you held property just in your name, the law presumes that ½ of it belongs to your spouse’s estate. You may have to deal with that issue.
- If your spouse left property that did not pass by survivorship, beneficiary designation or trust, then you need to take your spouse’s will or community property survivorship agreement, if any, to your attorney as soon as feasible. You do not have to wait to get the death certificate. Speaking of that, the funeral home can provide you with the death certificate. Order at least 5 copies.
When the unimaginable happens, do not make the mistake of doing nothing.
Virginia Hammerle is a licensed Texas attorney. Her practice includes estate planning, litigation, guardianship and probate law. See hammerle.com for her blog and newsletter sign-up. This column does not constitute legal advice.