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Please advise: steps to take when a spouse dies suddenly.
Old 01-14-2015, 07:23 AM   #1
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Please advise: steps to take when a spouse dies suddenly.


Even though I don't know the person very well, but my good friend is a friend of this lady. I'd love to help so she doesn't need to waste her time researching and have time to grieve her husband. I'm reposting my post from the Bogleheads in order to pull more brain power.

Her (either a GC holder or has the US citizenship) DH died of heart attack yesterday morning. He was 37 y.o. He's American. They have a 3 y.o. girl and a 3-month baby. He's gone now and she's totally alone with little children, just went back to work after her FMLA. Her MIL came from OR and will stay for 2 weeks. It's an awful tragedy and I'm sure she feels lost. He served in the military, so she's planning to do cremation and some kind of military service. Hopefully MIL can help with that.

Could you be so kind and list what steps to take NOW when a spouse passes away suddenly? And then what steps to take a bit later anything financially related, what gov't institutions should be informed, what forms to obtain, etc., etc. to move with her life further?
I don't know if he had life insurance outside from his work. But will his company automatically contact its life insurance company re their employee's death or does the wife have to do it?
If he had a 401k and IRA, what steps does she need to make? I hope he had assigned beneficiaries on both of them. If the person doesn't do, leaves blank, what happens in such cases?
Anything else? If it matters, they live in NC.

Thank you so much.

PS. I've heard that banks freeze joint account when one dies. How do banks learn about the death? Does the spouse have to tell or do the banks get info via other channels? Anyway, I told to withdraw cash so she can pay bills for the next month or so, because she won't be able to get it as soon as the banks know. Was it a good advice?

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Old 01-14-2015, 08:16 AM   #2
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The children will be eligible for social security benefits until they turn 18, so you should notify The Social Security office. There is also a small death benefit available. She should also contact the benefits customer service department for his company, who can provide guidance on company life insurance, 401k and other benefits. They can also tell her when her health care benefits expire where she'll have to find other health insurance. An attorney may be useful to make sure she can access all accounts if she is shut out from them. Not much can really be done until a death certificate is received since everyone will want to see it.

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Old 01-14-2015, 08:29 AM   #3
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Hope this helps.

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Old 01-14-2015, 08:38 AM   #4
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I didn't know banks would go ahead and freeze joint accounts when one spouse dies.
Of course, the intent of freezing is in case the surviving spouse has bad intentions. But then again, doesn't the money kinda belong to the surviving spouse anyhow since he/she had the account as joint?
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Old 01-14-2015, 10:04 AM   #5
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There is enough to just do funeral and grieving, so main issue is get things in organized fashion to deal with them later.

Get 5-6 certified copies of the death certificate. Especially for financial concerns, they need an original before releasing money (life insurance, 401k, etc). The bank should not freeze the assets if joint account.

Agree that kids can get SS benefits, and the surviving spouse should be able to get the 401k funds as beneficiary, even if it was not designated specifically the default should be spouse. Unless the bebeficiary does specifically list someone, then that is the way it will be distributed.

No need to do any drastic changes now, just manage the transfer of any assets and getting insurance set up. Once some time has passed and settled into the new normal, then might be good to consult a good fee-only financial advisor.
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Old 01-14-2015, 10:08 AM   #6
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Really sad story, Aida. Just so sad for your friend's friend.
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Old 01-14-2015, 11:11 AM   #7
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Thank you so much. This will be a great start when she is a bit better.

My friend said that the guy complained about his heart just before the new baby arrived. He was in the hospital for 10 days, but nothing wrong was found and so was released a few days before the birth of his 2nd child... 3 months later he's gone because of the heart. I'm guessing the medical tests don't foresee such cases. He looked fit and athletic to me when I saw him a couple of times last year.
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Old 01-14-2015, 04:06 PM   #8
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I never heard of a joint account being frozen on the death of one account holder. Unless there is a beneficiary form to the contrary the balance should all automatically go to the surviving joint account holder.

Yes, check on SS benefits for the children. This can be a substantial amount. Not enough to live on but enough to make a big difference.

38Chevy454 mentioned 5-6 copies of the death certificate. I would increase that to about 15 but a lot depends on the financial institutions, government agencies, and companies one is dealing with. Many will accept photocopies but most will want originals. She can get them later of course but it takes time to do. Better too many than not enough. My experience with my mother's estate was I needed 12.

If he didn't fill out a beneficiary form for the IRA, 401k, etc the default is normally the spouse anyway. If he did fill it out and designated someone other than the spouse, that controls regardless of what a will might say. If it turns out to be the case talk to an attorney of course, state laws are sometimes strange, but don't expect him to say anything different.

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Old 01-15-2015, 07:35 PM   #9
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Generally the bank doesn't know until she notifies them.

First thing is to make sure she has enough cash on hand for expenses. For at least a couple of months.

Then look to filing paperwork for SS and the banks.

She doesn't have to do anything right away about the retirement accounts. Give her a little breathing room for a month or so before she deals with those, unless she needs money from them.

Saddest part of my job is this, and I consider it an honor to help the folks left behind deal with things in the least complicated way for them.

It is good of you to help.

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Old 01-18-2015, 02:43 PM   #10
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Here the banks freeze the joint accounts so she should get enough $ out before notifying the bank. Such a sad situation.
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Old 01-18-2015, 02:50 PM   #11
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Very sad situation. You are very thoughtful to be helping your friend out like this, aida. Blessings on both of you.

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