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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.