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Steps to Follow to Avoid Probate When a Spouse Passes

Steps to Follow to Avoid Probate When a Spouse Passes

Troy Werner and his family

Written by Troy Werner

Troy Werner has been an indispensable asset to The Werner Law Firm since joining in 2009, providing exceptional legal service to its clients.

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POSTED ON: August 9, 2023

Losing a spouse can be an overwhelming and emotional experience. While it's possible to organize financial documents ahead of time, there's no way to truly prepare.

Unfortunately, during the grieving process, a surviving spouse must navigate the complex financial issues that arise after the death of their spouse. That said, there are some clear steps to follow to avoid probate when a spouse passes. Here's a checklist for surviving spouses from Forbes’ recent article, “What To Do After The Death Of A Spouse.”

There's plenty to do after the passing of a spouse. However, only some things need to get done right away. Here are some immediate non-financial considerations:

  • Obtaining multiple copies of the death certificate
  • Asking a friend/relative to watch the house during the funeral or memorial service because robberies and vandalism can happen
  • Arrange to have any pets taken care of in-home or boarded; and
  • If you plan to visit family away from home, have the mail forwarded to that address or the executor if it isn't you.

There are other things to avoid doing. Here are five common mistakes made by new widows (er)s:

  • Failing to adjust or remove a spouse’s social security number from accounts
  • Missing tax and other important deadlines
  • Failing to confirm if required minimum distributions (RMDs) from retirement accounts were taken before death; and
  • Transferring assets before authorization from the estate plan.
  • Get a hold of estate planning documents.

You should also organize your financial situation. Collect financial documents and statements, including bank statements, investment account statements (brokerage and/or trust accounts), retirement account statements and beneficiary designations, life insurance policies, pension details and outstanding debts or liabilities, including any mortgage or loan balances, credit card balances and unpaid bills.

If you're not sure if you can avoid probate after the passing of a spouse, it is sometimes best to schedule a free consultation with a probate lawyer. A good probate attorney can review your situation, see if a probate procedure is necessary, and further guide you through the steps. The California probate code provides for a procedure referred to as a Spousal Property Petition, which often will allow a spouse to deal with assets more quickly and cost-effectively than a normal full-blown probate case.

An experienced California probate lawyer in Los Angeles can help the executor or administrator move through the process of navigating this and settling the estate.

If you have any probate questions, schedule a free appointment with us through our online appointment page. We would be happy to see how we can help.

You can also read reviews from some of the hundreds of clients we have helped over the years.

Reference: Forbes (April 20, 2023) “What To Do After The Death Of A Spouse”

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