The death of your spouse can be stressful and traumatic. In addition to coping with the loss of your loved one, you, the survivor, must make important decisions.  These are in addition to the emotional issues. You, as the surviving spouse, may have to take on new responsibilities, such as managing your finances and returning to work. Understanding the legal issues that surround this will allow you freedom to address the emotional issues. Your first task is to locate the will. The will names the person in charge of the process, the Executor, most likely, you.  And, if your deceased spouse did not leave a will you will have other options to help you deal with the issues you face.

It is essential to hire an experienced attorney to assist with the complicated probate process.  As states go, Iowa is not user friendly.  Even if you owned most or all property jointly, legal actions are required finalize the estate. Iowa law requires the original last will and testament be filed with the clerk of court; even if there will be no present probate of the estate. Title to jointly-owned real estate must be transferred to you.  This is a title issue and must be done before there can be a sale. This can be done through a document filed with the Polk County recorder. Assets such as investment accounts and life insurance should be transferred to the named beneficiary.  This is a process and you need to approach it methodically an attorney can help so you can focus on other issues.

The will isn’t the only document required to settle your spouse’s estate. Financial documents and information needed to file claims for insurance and other benefits are also needed.  These items include: death certificate(s), trust information, abstract of title to real estate (you really should not have possession of abstracts), original stock certificate(you really should not have possession of stock certificates), information on bonds, financial account statements, (bank accounts, investments retirement accounts), insurance policies, vehicle registration and insurance information, appraisals of any tangible personal property that has significant such as antiques, artwork, or collections.

You, as the surviving spouse, should then review your own estate plan. The passing of a spouse is a good time to update a last will and testament and to ensure that advance directives (powers of attorney and a living will) are in place. You can also assess the remaining assets to plan for strategic gifting or the possibility of needing long-term care.

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