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Legally Links Resources

We know, it's a lot of information. Here are some of the basics.

Do you have any other questions? Please don't hesitate to contact us. We're here to help.

Financial steps to take after the loss of a Spouse or Parent:

On all steps listed below, Legally Links has trained staff that can help you. Click the arrow on the right side of the screen for more information about each step.

Find the will (if there is one) and speak to an attorney about what to do with it

If the deceased has left a will, an attorney will need submit the document to probate court to ensure the assets listed are legally transferred to the right party, including yourself.  

See if you may be eligible for Social Security Survivor Benefits

Generally, the surviving spouse (over 60) and minor children(under 18) may be eligible for social security benefits, even if the deceased died at a younger age. Click here for a complete guide on how to apply for Social Security Survivors Benefits.

Check the mail for all bills and statements

This is important so you understand what accounts and subscriptions the deceased had and what accounts you want to close to ensure there is no identify theft. You can also receive a free credit report from Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion to understand what open accounts the deceased had.

Contact employer about benefits and retirement plans

There may be retirement plans or insurance plans sponsored by the employer which may be available to the next of kin.

Review health insurance continuation with deceased’s employer.

Federal law can require a surviving spouse or child to receive continuing health insurance coverage from the employer in some instances

Notify banks, brokerages, and other financial institutions

If you are a joint owner of any financial accounts, you have an automatic right of survivorship, which gives the surviving person ownership of the account.

If the bank accounts are only in the deceased’s name, speak to an attorney before touching the account to review how the account can get legally transferred to you.

Contact credit card companies

Notify all relevant credit card companies to ensure the account does not incur any new charges or bills. This step will also ensure that, when needed, the account is closed to avoid identity theft. 

Some card may have death benefits that you may want to ask about.

Contact insurance companies

Speak to your insurance companies to see if there are any life, home, auto, and personal property insurance policies. You also want to ensure you are making other insurance payments so coverage is not discontinued.

Contact the mortgage company

Call the mortgage company to learn more if there are any specific programs for death of the mortgagee which may help with making future payments

Notify the 3 credit bureaus

Contact one of the 3 credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion to notify them of the death. Notifying one of the companies will communicate to all 3 credit bureaus that no credit should be issued in the name of the deceased.

General Questions

Who does Legally Links serve?

Services are available to widows, widowers, or children who have lost a parent.

What services does Legally Links provide?

Our services include advising on common questions relating to taxes, Social Security survivors benefits, financial planning, and trusts and estates formations.

Is there a cost for any of the services?

Services are absolutely free of charge. In the event that the Legally Links team believes you may benefit from engaging an outside professional, there may be fees associated with hiring that professional. (Legally Links does not charge for referrals to outside professionals.) 


Tax FAQs with Eddie Dayan, CPA

Eddie Dayan, CPA, is a senior accountant at Brand Sonnenschine LLP. He is a member of the Legally Links Tax Advisory Division.

What happens if my spouse passed away during the previous year? Do they still owe taxes?

You must file a tax return that includes all income up to the date of death. You’re entitled to all credits and deductions for the year. During the year that the spouse passes away, the surviving spouse is eligible to file as Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately. If the surviving spouse remains unmarried following the year of the spouse's death and has at least one dependent child, then they qualify for Qualifying Widower status when filing the subsequent two years’ tax returns.

Are Social Security survivors benefits considered taxable income?

The portion of Social Security benefits allocated for the child are not considered taxable income for the parent. They are considered taxable income for the child, though most children don’t earn enough to be required to file taxes.  


Is there a minimum amount of money I have to earn to be required to file taxes?

The minimum income to file taxes depends on your filing status and age. If your income is below the standard deduction for your filing status, then you’re not required to file taxes. The standard deduction is updated every year because it’s adjusted for inflation. (For reference, in 2021, the standard deduction is $12,550 for both singles filers and married filing separately, $25,100 for joint filers, and $18,800 for head of household.) 


What type of income is included?

The simple answer is everything, unless specifically excluded. The most common types of taxed income are wages, salaries, tips, bonuses, vacation pay, severance pay, commissions, interest, and dividends.


Will Legally Links file tax returns for me?

Unfortunately, due to resource constraints, Legally Links is unable to file tax returns for Links families. But we remain available to assist with questions and referrals to outside accountants.

Social Security Survivors Benefits FAQs with Rivky Posner and Shira Nabatian

Rivky Posner is CFO of Hamodia and Binah Magazine. She is chairman of the Legally Links Social Security Division.

Shira Nabatian is a community organizer within the Jewish community. She is a member of the Legally Links Social Security Division.
Note: The responses below pertain to Social Security survivors benefits. These are not to be confused with Social Security retirement benefits, which are available to retired individuals age 62 and above. Survivors benefits are for individuals who lost a loved one and, based on factors indicated below, are eligible for this benefit.
 

Who’s eligible to receive Social Security survivors benefits?

Widows and widowers, sometimes ex-spouses, children under 18, disabled children, and dependent parents of a deceased individual who was working and paying social security taxes. 


When should I file for benefits?

It’s important to file as soon as possible after the loved one’s death as you will only receive payments from the time you file for benefits. Social Security does not provide benefits retroactively from the date of death. 


How much are the expected monthly payouts?

Payments vary based on the amount your loved one was earning. The more the individual was paying into Social Security, the more benefits you will receive.


Are Social Security payments for life?

Generally, payments are only made while the deceased’s children are under 18 (unless there is a disability involved). They may resume again when the deceased’s spouse reaches retirement age.

How long must my spouse have been working?

Generally, the deceased must have paid into Social Security for a minimum of 10 years. However, actual benefits vary based on how old the deceased was at the time of death. 


What if my spouse died in their 20s or 30s and didn’t pay into Social Security for many years?

You may still be eligible to receive benefits. Social Security has special rules to provide benefits for the family and spouse of those who died young, which will be determined when applying for benefits.


Will Legally Links be on the phone with me when I call Social Security to apply for survivors benefits?

Legally Links is available to be on the phone with you for the application to Social Security, if you so desire. 


Financial Planning FAQs with Etty Surkis and Yitzchak Goldsmith, CFP

Etty Surkis is CEO of Excelsum Capital, a boutique financial services firm. She is a member of the Legally Links Financial Planning Division. 
Yitzchak Goldsmith is a certified financial planner (CFP) with Goldstar Investment and Insurance Services. He is a member of the Legally Links Financial Planning Division. 

How do I set up a budget?

It’s simpler than you think. All you need to do is take out a sheet of paper and divide it into four sections:

  1. Monthly income 
  2. Monthly expenses

    4) All debt 

    5) All savings and investments

If your expenses are less than your income, then the goal is to begin paying down any debt. If you have no debt, then the goal is to start saving as much of your income as you can right away. 

If your expenses are greater than your income, the goal is to close the gap as rapidly as possible. 


What should I do if I’m financially strapped every month?

First, we have to figure out what the discrepancy is (i.e., how much money are you earning every month and how much money are you spending every month?). Once we know that, we can start working toward closing the gap. 


The first 2 critical steps to take are: 


a) Make cash your primary funding source for items that aren’t fixed (e.g., food, clothing, miscellaneous spending, etc.).


b) Review the prices at the grocery/supermarket. 


Hands down, we spend too much at the grocery store without paying attention to prices. This doesn’t mean you should go price hunting or shop at different stores. Just look through your receipts. You’ll probably find you’re wasting your dollars on items that don't matter much, rather than products that can add significant value. 


With proper planning and budgeting, learning to live within your   means can actually be quite liberating.

Do I need to buy life insurance?

Every time we consider buying any type of insurance, the question should be, “If I were to lose xyz, would I be able to recover from that loss?”


If the answer is yes, then purchasing insurance isn't necessary. If the answer is no, then purchasing insurance is a wise decision. 


When considering life insurance, the question is, “If I were to pass on, would my family be able to maintain their current lifestyle in my absence?”


Friends and family members are managing the investments held for my children. Is there anything I need to be aware of?

A lot goes into a sound financial plan beyond finding the investment with the highest return. The 4 most important factors are: 

1. Risk tolerance 

2. Time horizon 

3. Tax planning 

4. Diversification 

These factors are unique to each situation. Family and friends, no matter how well-meaning, may not have the tools to assess these factors. Additionally, their emotions can play a role in how they invest, leading to bad financial choices (like selling at the wrong time). 


If you do decide to allow family and friends to invest for you, you should try to have at least two people review any transaction.


I’m getting pitched by many different people to help manage my investments or to sell me financial products (e.g., life insurance policies, etc.). How do I know whom to trust?

1. Look for someone who is licensed (a CPA, CFP, RIA, etc.). That will add a level of fiduciary responsibility. 

2. If they are transactional oriented (just selling a product, as opposed to looking at the whole situation) or only offer one product as a solution (only stocks or only life insurance or only real estate), make sure to get a second opinion.

3. A fee-only advisor (who charges an hourly fee for advice) may be a good option for impartial advice. Just make sure that you actually implement the plan after the recommendation.


Trust and Estate FAQs with Rebecca Heller, Esq.

Rebecca Heller is a trusts and estates and real estate attorney at Shwal & Platt. She is a member of the Legally Links Trusts and Estates Division.

What happens if a person passes away without a will?

If a person dies without a will, that is referred to as "intestate." When this happens, the intestacy laws of the state where your loved one resided determine how their assets will be distributed. This includes any bank accounts, securities, real estate, and other assets they owned at the time of death, unless there are beneficiary designations or joint owners with a right of survivorship on the accounts/assets. 

The laws of intestate succession vary greatly, depending on whether the deceased was single or married or had children. In most cases, the property is distributed in split shares to the heirs, which could include the surviving spouse, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews, and distant relatives. Generally, when no relatives can be found, the entire estate goes to the state.


Do I need a will?

The answer is almost always yes. A will allows you to choose who will inherit your assets. You will also be able to name key fiduciary roles, such as the executor (who will be responsible for distributing your assets), the guardian (who will be legally responsible for any minor children), and a trustee (who will be responsible for the minor children's finances).


What is the reason for having a power of attorney and/or health care proxy?

A power of attorney allows you to pick an agent (or agents) to make financial decisions and act on your behalf in the event you’re unable to act on your own. You can choose co-agents to act together or a successor agent to assist if the first agent is unable to act for you. 

 

The health care proxy allows you to name a person who has the power to make medical decisions on your behalf. You should name one person at a time, but can choose more than one person.


What is probate and why do I want to avoid it?

Probate is the process by which a will is proven valid. The Surrogate's Court in the state where the deceased lived will look at the will and supporting documents and make the determination that the will is or is not valid. Until the court grants letters of testamentary or letters of administration (when there is no will), the assets cannot be distributed. It can take a few months for the assets to be available. A trust would assist you in avoiding probate.

Do I need a trust if I have a will?

It depends. While trusts and wills have similar functions for distributing assets after a person's death, there are many different types of trust and reasons to have one. Many individuals set up trusts for Medicaid planning, asset protection, or to reduce the amount they’ll pay in estate taxes. A proper analysis of your finances and personal goals is necessary in order to determine if a trust is right for you. 


Will Legally Links create a will or trust for me?

Unfortunately, due to resource constraints, Legally Links is unable to form a will or trust for Links families. But we remain available to assist with questions and referrals to outside trust and estates lawyers.