Actions a Surviving Spouse Should Take

After the memorial service has ended, and every casserole or ham has been served to grieving friends and family, the decedent’s surviving spouse begins a new role. As difficult as it may be, there are actions that a surviving spouse should take as soon as possible after a death.

Contact Your Attorney

Hopefully the decedent left a valid, up-to-date Will. Even if there’s no Will, however, the surviving spouse will need to talk to an attorney about starting a probate proceeding. Also, it’s time to speak with the estate’s personal representative if the spouse is not serving in that role.

Notify Financial Institutions and Government Agencies

Contact all banks, insurance companies, mortgage companies, lenders, credit card companies, and investment companies. They will probably require copies of the death certificate. Some accounts may become estate assets unless the accountholder named beneficiaries. Other accounts will need to be paid using estate assets.

Also contact any government agencies, including the Social Security Administration.

Florida Surviving Spouse Laws

Under Florida law, the surviving spouse has special rights and options. For example, if a decedent leaves behind a spouse but failed to leave a Will or trust, a surviving spouse is entitled to a certain amount of the deceased spouse’s estate. The amount depends on whether the decedent and surviving spouse had children, either separate or together. If Max and Sara have three children together, Sara gets the entire estate if Max dies intestate. The intestate succession gets complicated when a couple have children separately and together.

  • Pretermitted Spouse. Sometimes a person marries after signing a Will, then fails to update the Will before passing away. The surviving spouse is considered a pretermitted spouse. This means the surviving spouse can still receive a portion of the estate. For example, Sara signed a Will three years before marrying Max, then died without updating her Will. Max is still entitled to part of her estate, even though he is not mentioned in the Will.
  • Elective Share. A surviving spouse may elect to take a 30% share of the estate as a minimum, but this must be done within six months from service of the Notice of Administration or two years of the date of decedent’s death. Consult with an attorney before taking this step.
  • Family Allowance. The surviving spouse of a Florida resident is also entitled to a Family Allowance of up to $18,000. This is intended to support the surviving spouse and other heirs during the estate administration.

Florida Homestead Law and a Surviving Spouse

Under Florida statutes, a surviving spouse may be entitled to take a life estate in the couple’s homestead. This means he or she can continue to live in the home, with the property passing to other heirs after death. The surviving spouse may instead elect to take an undivided half interest in the homestead as a tenant in common, with the other interest being held by other heirs.

Talk to an Attorney About Your Rights as a Surviving Spouse.

Attorney John Mangan is board certified in Wills, Trusts & Estates by the Florida Bar. Please call us at 772-324-9050 or use our Contact Form to set up an appointment. We help clients throughout Florida, including Stuart, Palm City, Hobe Sound, Jupiter, and Port St. Lucie.

Written by John Mangan, Esq.

John Mangan, Esq.

I’m an attorney in Palm City, FL, and I serve clients throughout Martin County, including Stuart, Palm City, Hobe Sound, and Indiantown, as well as those in St. Lucie County, the Treasure Coast, Palm Beach County, and other parts of Florida. The Law Offices of John Mangan, P.A., is an innovative firm providing estate planning services to clients in Florida. We focus primarily on wills, trusts, asset protection, guardianship, and probate administration.