When your spouse dies, you face the challenge of taking charge of all the finances. Property you once owned jointly or your spouse owned in his name only may now be yours alone. You don’t need to hire a lawyer to change bank accounts and deeds. The process requires sorting through some paperwork and practicing patience, but it’s something you can do yourself when you’re ready to tackle the job. You’ll need to wait until after the will is probated, or in the case of a small estate, until probate is waived by the court.
Obtain a copy of the certified death certificate. The courthouse where the death was recorded issues certified copies of the death certificate. You can obtain copies by applying to the County Registrar and paying the required fee. You’ll need one copy for each piece of property for which you want to change the deed and each financial institution for which you need to change your accounts.
Contact your county’s Registrar of Deeds and ask about the laws in your state. In some states, property owned in Joint Tenancy With Right of Survivorship automatically passes to the surviving spouse. You don’t need to change the deed. Other states may require you to fill out a form and present the death certificate and the disposition of assets, if a will was probated. The county will then issue a new deed showing only your name. If you did not own the property in joint tenancy but the property passed to you through the will, some states will automatically change the deed as part of the probate process. Other states will require you to complete a form and file for a new deed.
Contact the bank where the accounts are held. In the case of a joint bank account, you are already a signer on the account. You can keep the account as is, or close it and open a new one in your name only. You don’t need anything to do this, though some banks may ask to see a death certificate. If the account was not in your name but the money passes to you through your spouse’s will, you’ll need to show the bank the death certificate and complete some paperwork to transfer the funds in the account to you.
Items you will need
- Copies of real estate deeds
- Bank account information
- Ask someone to come with you to the bank and courthouse for moral support.