Experiencing the death of a loved one, especially when unexpected, can be emotionally crippling. And yet, life marches on. Often times, it is imperative for surviving dependents and loved ones to take steps to secure certain rights in the aftermath. One critical set of survivor rights has to do with the allocation of property after death.
Technically, any property held in joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety, or community property with right of survivorship automatically passes to the survivor (usually the spouse). If you are the designated survivor, you will need to file a certified copy of the death certificate with the county land record’s office to formalize your ownership of the property.
If you are the designated survivor but not a co-owner of the property, you will need to file an election as ‘tenant in common,’ which allows you to take a one-half interest in the property. Under Florida law, this is referred to as the ‘Homestead.’ This election must be filed within six months of death. It is extremely important that this election is filed, since the cost of maintaining real estate in Florida can be high. Becoming a tenant in common allows you to force the sale of the property, absolving you of property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, homeowner association dues, and other related costs.
If you had a joint bank account with the deceased, you should be able to continue to use the account after their death. As the surviving co-account holder, you automatically legally own all of the money in the account. You may want to notify the bank of the decedent’s passing, however, and formally transfer the account into your name alone. This may help to prevent bureaucratic confusion in the future. It also protects the money in cases of identity theft.
If you co-owned a U.S. savings bond with the deceased, you automatically become the sole owner of the bond upon their passing. It is highly recommended that you have the bond re-issued in your name, since this will allow you to name a beneficiary for it. In the event of your own passing, the bond will automatically be transferred to your designated beneficiary, without the need for probate.
If the deceased held securities in a brokerage account, mutual fund, or monetary market fund, you will have to contact the managing company directly to transfer the securities fully into your name. You will need to fill out a form and send it, along with a certified copy of the death certificate, to the bank or brokerage company. They will subsequently re-register the account(s) in your name.
If the deceased held tangible stock or bond certificates, you will need to have them reissued in your name. You will need to contact the corporation’s transfer agent directly to determine what forms and documentation you’ll need to send to have the certificates re-issued. Typically, contact information for the corporation’s transfer agent can be found printed on the back of the certificate.
In the event of a death, ensuring that joint property is appropriately transferred is much more than just a bureaucratic headache. Failure to formally transfer property can result in a host of much more serious issues in the future, including legal disputes with banks and/or relatives. If you are the survivor facing the difficult task of dealing with the estate of a deceased loved one, an experienced survivor rights attorney can help guide you through the process and the paperwork. Contact the attorneys at Fetterman & Associates for a free consultation at (561) 693-3872.
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