Husband passed away suddenly

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Husband passed away suddenly

My husband passed away on Sunday. In the midst of everything, I am now scrambling to find out how I can legally access his bank account, because aside from his funeral expenses, I have household bills that I need to take care of. There is also a safe deposit box somewhere, that has all his important papers in it and he has a house that his mom is living in and everyone is telling me something different.

Asked on May 8, 2009 under Estate Planning, District of Columbia


FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 13 years ago | Contributor

First, our sincere condolences.

Second, you will be under a huge amount of pressure from all sides to "do something." Stay as calm as possible and resist the pressure to do anything immediately.

Don't make promises to people who ask you for his this or his that, and don't give anything away at this time. You won't believe the number of people who will ask for something -- from the neighbors, his children, the church, etc. Don't get caught into some obligation by promising anything or giving anyone a date certain. Just say "I need to get a handle on everything. I am overwhelmed and in grief."

The one immediate thing is the funeral home -- it will demand money. If he had life insurance from his employment or privately they will generally accept a partial assignment of the proceeds if you're the beneficiary. But aside from that there should be no rush. The household bills you have to deal with can be usually addressed by saying that he died, you're getting his affairs in order, and they will be paid shortly. Don't sweat the little stuff.

Life insurance proceeds are usually paid to the named beneficiary very promptly, especially the policies that have been in force for several years or from a job. You'll need the death certificate and the claim form, which the insurance company or employer can provide. Proceeds of $10,000 or more are usually paid via a fully guaranteed, interest bearing (usually at much better rates than banks pay) checking-type account which you can maintain and use as needed.

Who gets "his" assets depends on how the assets were titled (in his name, in a trust, in joint name, etc.) and what his Will says and what the laws of intestate distribution of his residence provide. Any benefits from a pension plan or 401(k) benefits usually go to the surviving spouse by law.

If he owned a home and the title to it was in his name alone, that will be part of his estate that has to go through probate. If he had a Will, it will specify who will get what or what share. If he didn't have a Will, the laws of the place where he resided determine who gets what. If he had an old Will and you then got married and the old Will was not revised to include you, you have a right of election against the Will. A Will becomes effective only AFTER it is admitted to probate and an Executor or Personal Representative is appointed. If there is no Will, you can be appointed Personal Representative.

In situations like these it usually pays to hire a lawyer to handle the estate and advise you. That makes things much easier. lists many good Washington, DC lawyers. But again, the best advice anyone can give don't do anything you can defer -- such as make investment decisions -- in a hurry. Please try to take things slowly -- I may be an attorney but I am a human being and have been through what you are going through, and it is hard.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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