what to do when my husband dies?
January 13, 2006 1:08 PM   Subscribe

My husband just died. What, legally, should I do?

We were seperated (not legally) and in the process of getting divorced. No papers had been filed. I'm 26. We haven't lived together since the spring.
I have no clue what I should do now. Is there paperwork I should fill out? Something with Social Security?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Assuming there is going to be a funeral, talk to the funeral director. They know what needs to be done.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 1:27 PM on January 13, 2006

The funeral home may have information on this kind of thing--when a friend's spouse died they gave him a sort of packet of all the paperwork and a checklist of things that need to be done.

I'm sorry for your loss--even if you were separated this can't be easy.
posted by exceptinsects at 1:28 PM on January 13, 2006

I'm very sorry for your loss and understand that sometimes tossing yourself into paperwork and details can be a good way of dealing with grief. This site has some basic checklists on dealing with the death of a spouse which mostly deals with financial details. You will, of course, have to make some decisions about how much you want to involve yourself in this and some things you may not be able to opt out of owing to your married status. Some of this will depend on his family and how they'd like to deal with this and how they deal with you. If you can come to some sort of understanding of who among you will be dealing with things like funeral arrangements and property issues, that would be a good start.
posted by jessamyn at 1:33 PM on January 13, 2006

IANAL - Because you seem to be legally married at this time, in spite of the separation, you need to see if you will be considered next of kin, if you will be responsible for his debts, etc. You *may* be able to get guidance on this at your local probate court. Depending upon how involved this is likely to be (does he have a will? a 401(k)? an IRA? property?) you may want to talk to a lawyer. This may be a good source.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:26 PM on January 13, 2006

I'm a funeral director. This can be a difficult and confusing time. If I can help you in anyway, please feel free to email me and I'll protect your anonymity.
posted by ColdChef at 4:29 PM on January 13, 2006

Having said that, a good funeral home will walk you through the process and simply things for you. Again, if I can help, I'm happy to.
posted by ColdChef at 4:31 PM on January 13, 2006

ColdChef, I never realized a funeral director helped out with more than the funeral. What sort of other things can the funeral home help with?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:12 PM on January 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

Technical stuff: filing insurance, procuring the death certificate (needed to close bank accounts, whatnot), filing for social security benefits, placing the obituary, ordering the flowers, requesting military honors.

There are funeral homes that provide just these basic services as well as funereal services and nothing more. But I'm a small town funeral director, so we do a bit of everything. I'll go out to your house and sit with you. I'll help you notify your relatives. My wife will probably make a casserole for you.

It probably sounds stupid to most people, but we still provide the sort of grief ministry that you only see in movies set in the fifties. For instance, I'll usually bury pets for free (or I've been known to take cookies and cakes in payment.)

You shouldn't expect your funeral director to go to these lengths, but if they're old-school, don't be surprised if they do.

I'm also a good listener.
posted by ColdChef at 5:47 PM on January 13, 2006 [4 favorites]

It probably sounds stupid to most people...

ColdChef, absolutely none of that sounds stupid to me and I'm betting pretty much everyone else agrees.

Depending on how he died, anon, you might have resources to a social worker. This will certainly be the case if he died in a hospital. Hospital social workers deal with this kind of thing day in and day out and will be a good resource.
posted by incessant at 7:36 PM on January 13, 2006

ok, I'll break anonymity...
There is no insurance. As of the new year he was off my health insurance and I'd cancelled his dependant life insurance via my company (open enrollment).
I don't think there is any debt to worry about.

He hasn't worked much in the last few years, so I don't know about social security.

I'm just feeling kind of lost now and needed some advice. I hadn't even spoken to him in months, and I don't know if I'll go to the funeral/wake since it'll be out in the country and I don't own a car or have any way there.
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:16 PM on January 13, 2006

So it sounds like someone else (a relative?) is handling the funeral, and presumably all the other details. So most/all of the checklists probably don't apply. Per the cited page above, it appears that you don't have any obligation to notify Social Security (because someone else is handling his affairs), nor is there any payment due to you because you were living apart and are under retirement age.

It wouldn't hurt to get a copy of his will. If he didn't have one, then state law pertains, which means (normally) that you'd inherit all of his possessions, including any money he might have.

I'm not sure about debts. The general rule is you are jointly liable for any debts incurred by your spouse during a marriage; I don't know how separation affects this, particularly when there is no paperwork. (The facts that you lived in separate locations and cancelled his insurance argue for not being responsible, but that is recent.) If the debts are minor or nonexistent, then this is a moot point. If they are substantial, and there are no assets to pay them (and his family isn't going to pay), then obviously a lawyer might be in order. (I wouldn't wait until the collection agency shows up - by then, your credit score may have taken a real hit.)

My sympathies.
posted by WestCoaster at 8:50 PM on January 13, 2006

so sorry, hon--if you have good relations with the mother-in-law, see if she needs anything--it's horrible to lose a kid.

and if you want anything as a memento of your time together, i'd say sooner is better.
posted by amberglow at 8:53 PM on January 13, 2006

Kelly, I sent you an email, but I'll also say this here:

Whether you choose to attend or not really should have more to do with where you were in your relationship, rather than how easy it would be for you to attend. If things were bad with his family, a phonecall or letter of condolences would be appropriate. Or you could always send flowers. Just something to let them know that you know. And that you share their sadness.

However, (and please keep in mind that I have no idea what your current situation is) you should really consider finding a way to attend the funeral if you have unresolved feelings or if (and it really is as simple as this) you WANT to go. There's almost always a friend or family member (or maybe someone from his family) who would bring you.

I hope you find peace.
posted by ColdChef at 10:47 PM on January 13, 2006

I'm so sorry to hear it. I would simply chime in to note that you're in a very tough situation, where your expectations and those of others may not make enough room for you own grief. Please be kind to yourself, remember that you were married to the man. Divorces, even acrimonious ones, often need to be grieved. The deaths of people from whom we are estranged even more so.
posted by OmieWise at 5:25 AM on January 14, 2006

Kellydamnit, from your previous askme I can tell this relationship was difficult at best, but I would suggest at least making a good faith effort to attend.

My relationship with my mother was strained to the extent that I cut her out of my life for three months before she died. I had to arrange the services and even with that much involvement I still have unresolved feelings about her and her death 8 years later.

That said, I know money is probably still tight for you. Depending on where you'd have to fly you can check with the airlines for bereavement benefits.

Also, not that I would rely on this, never underestimate the generosity of friends. When my mom died she had nothing, no insurance, etc. and I had even less. A friend and one of my pool playing mates took up a collection of over $2400 to help differ the costs of her services (Wish my funeral director was a heck of a lot more like ColdChef!).
posted by FlamingBore at 6:59 AM on January 14, 2006

What ever else, set time aside to be open to your emotions. If things won't manage to feel right for you in a few weeks, seriously consider grief counseling, it really can help. Buried grief can get debilitating (I know from sad experience. I lost my first partner 17 years ago).

Difficulty with your former in-laws can really get in the way of your own emotional needs, that's what happened to me. I don't know your situation and won't pry. Maybe my little caution will help you (or someone else reading this).
posted by Goofyy at 12:50 AM on January 15, 2006

Thanks, everyone. This helped a lot.
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:28 AM on January 16, 2006

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