How to Prepare for the Death of a Spouse

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As painful as it may seem, advance planning can help you avoid legal battles and other emotionally exhausting experiences during one of the most difficult times of your life. If you have children or complicated financial assets, it's even more crucial that you plan now to protect them later.

Get legal advice. Check your wills. Make sure you are each designated to receive all joint property automatically in the event of the other's death. If that's not the case, have new papers drawn up and sign them now.

Have adequate insurance coverage so your family's lifestyle won't change dramatically. Your kids will be distraught enough with your having to get a second job or move from the home you've all shared for years.

Make sure you have a medical power of attorney so you can serve as his or her protector in life-or-death medical situations.

Know where your spouse's investment accounts, IRA and other financial paperwork is located. If he or she keeps them at the office, you need to know this.

Review all property titles and deeds (for cars and boats) to ensure that both of you are listed as legal owners. Sure, it's a technicality now, but when your spouse dies, it will be a major and legally challengeable issue that your car is in his or her name.

Ask your spouse now whether you are eligible to receive benefits from your spouse's company in the event of his or her death. If you're both unsure, bring home the company handbook.

Consult with a financial adviser. You're looking for ways to secure your family's financial future.

Tips & Warnings

  • Stay involved in the family finances so that there are no surprises when your spouse dies.
  • Make sure your safe-deposit box is listed in both names; if it's under only your spouse's name, you'll need a court order to open it.
  • Similarly, put bank accounts in both names so they won't have to go through probate.
  • Read 236 Buy Life Insurance.
  • Don't assume anything. The courts won't. Get everything spelled out in writing.

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