This is a very informative article written by Toronto based Lawyer/Journalist Shelyl Smolkin. Her advice on when you’re newly widowed, and how you need time to think clearly and make good decisions in the midst of your grief. And she's put together a really good checklist to help you get through it.
Whether it’s a sudden loss or the result of a long illness, the death of your spouse is emotionally devastating and you will need time to grieve. However, many important decisions with financial implications must be made sooner, rather than later. For example, the funeral must be arranged, bills must be paid and the estate must be settled. It’s usual for you to be your spouse’s executor, unless you are too frail or otherwise physically incapable of these tasks.
This is a time when close family members or friends and trusted advisors can often do a lot of the leg-work. But ultimately you as the widow or widower must direct these people and make crucial final decisions.
Here are 10 practical things you need to do when your spouse dies:
Did your spouse purchase a cemetery plot or make other pre-arrangements? If not, you will need to select a funeral home. In either case, you will need to meet with the funeral director. Be sure to obtain multiple copies of the death certificate from the funeral home. (You can read about different funeral options and their approximate costs at Canadian Funerals Online.)
You may need a lawyer, an accountant and a financial advisor to settle your spouse’s affairs. If you already have a satisfactory working relationship with one or more of these professionals, they are the logical choice. Otherwise, ask family and friends for personal recommendations. Professional associations such as the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, the Law Society of Ontario and the Financial Advisors Association of Canada (Advocis) can also assist you.
The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) or Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) pays a lump-sum death benefit and you may be eligible for survivor benefits and children’s benefits as well. You may also qualify for the Widowed Spouse’s Allowance, a benefit available to the spouses or common-law partners of Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) recipients from ages 60-64. If your spouse was a veteran, other benefits or allowances may be payable. Be sure to officially notify CPP/QPP and Old Age Security of your spouse’s death, so neither makes any overpayments that will need to be repaid later.
If your spouse was employed at the time of death, you may be eligible for group life or accident insurance benefits, depending on the cause of death. In addition, there may be retiree life insurance in force. You may also be entitled to a lump sum or monthly payment from the company pension plan or other savings plans. Contact previous employers if you think there could be accrued pensions that were never paid out.
Gather information about any life insurance policies and, if you are the beneficiary, contact the life insurance companies to make a claim. They will request a copy of the death certificate and other documentation to validate your claim. Proceeds are usually disbursed within 30 days after all requested materials have been received.
You will continue to have access to joint bank accounts. Any account in your spouse’s name alone typically will not be accessible to the executor (who may be you, as noted above) until the will is probated. However, if there was money in your spouse’s account, the bank will likely advance funds to pay for the funeral if you present a bill.
To help prevent fraud, provincial health insurance coverage must be cancelled. Turn in your spouse’s driver’s licence to the closest Ministry of Transportation Office along with a copy of the death certificate. Close credit card and other charge accounts, and take your spouse’s name off joint cards and accounts. Contact appropriate government offices regarding your spouse’s social insurance card and passport.
Review your will and power of attorney. If changes are necessary, have your lawyer prepare new documents for your signature.
If you and your spouse owned your home jointly, you will retain full ownership and the value of the property will not form part of the estate for probate purposes. However, ask your lawyer whether you need to transfer it into your name as sole owner. If you want or need to downsize, don’t rush. Try to delay this decision until you are emotionally and physically ready.
If your spouse dies, you may become a target for fraud artists less interested in your wellbeing than your money. Ask for time to think over any financial proposals and discuss them with your advisors. And when you are ready for romance again, consider having your lawyer draw up a pre-nuptial agreement that will protect you and your heirs, before you take the plunge and remarry.
If you are married and your spouse dies leaving a valid will, you can choose to get either an equalization payment or what was left to you in their will. See section about Equalization for more information on how to calculate an equalization payment.
If your spouse dies without leaving a valid will, you can choose to get an equalization payment or your share according to the “intestacy” rules. These rules give married spouses and children the right to inherit property when there is no valid will.
In both situations, you must usually take legal steps within 6 months of your spouse's death if you want to claim the equalization payment.
Common-law spouses do not inherit any of their spouse's property unless it was left to them in a valid will. If your common-law spouse dies without leaving a valid will, the intestacy rules give their property to their children or other relatives, not to you. So if you are in a common-law relationship, each of you must make a will if you want each other to inherit your property when you die.
If your spouse dies, you usually become the sole owner of any money or property that you both owned jointly. This is true for both married and common-law couples.
For example, you usually have the right to all the money in any joint bank account and you become the sole owner of any real estate that the two of you held in "joint tenancy". This is not affected by a will or the intestacy rules.
In the same way, you would also inherit life insurance money and registered investments if those assets list you as a "beneficiary".
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