Losing a spouse is one of the most difficult experiences you may encounter. In addition to the emotional pain and sorrow, legal and financial decisions must also be made. If you or someone you know is experiencing the loss of a spouse, please assure them that they should first take time to grieve and seek the support of family members and friends. In Texas, the probate system does allow for a reasonable period of time before an application for probate must be made, and some probate alternatives require thirty days to have elapsed before certain steps can be made.
First, order several certified copies of death certificates (we usually recommend ten) and gather legal and financial documents. Second, notify the bank and check the safe deposit box and home safe. Third, determine if there was a will and locate the original and any codicils (amendments). An original Will is needed when you meet with the probate attorney and file the application for probate. Fourth, gather life insurance policies as well as health, home, automobile or any other coverage. Fifth, make a list of assets held jointly or individually in the loved one’s name. Sixth, make a list of know debts, including medical bills, credit card bills, loans, etc. Seventh, collect titles to vehicles, deeds to real estate or other property. Eighth, notify the spouse’s employer, insurance carriers and relevant financial institutions. The financial institutions should assist you with update the title for any joint accounts into the surviving spouse’s name. For real estate and any other property not held jointly, you may need to go through the probate process to change the title on these assets. Make appointments with your probate and estate attorney, financial adviser and tax advisor to determine the next steps. The loss will take its toll emotionally, but with a checklist and a plan, you can readily conquer the legal and financial tasks.