An unexpected death of a spouse can create complicated legal circumstances that leave the family confused about how to handle the deceased's property. When a spouse dies intestate--that is, without a last will and testament--that person's property automatically passes to the surviving spouse. The title to any property owned by the deceased is then transferred to the surviving spouse.
Obtain a copy of all titles owned by the deceased, such as a title to a car or deed to real estate. You can get copies of deeds from the Register of Deeds office in the county where the land is. Obtain copies of titles for automobiles and other similar property from the insurance company.
Locate the last will and testament of the deceased, if there is one.
Obtain a death certificate for the deceased or request a certified copy of the deceased's death certificate. You can get certified copies from the Department of Vital Statistics in the state in which the deceased died.
Provide copies of the death certificate to the Register of Deed's office to transfer ownership to the surviving spouse. Also provide copies to any other requisite agency, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, for any other property that is being transferred to the surviving spouse. If the deceased also held a separate bank account, provide a copy of the death certificate to the bank so the surviving spouse can have access to the deceased's funds.
Fill out a Petition to Probate Will form, if the deceased had a last will and testament. These forms are available in the clerk's office at the probate courthouse in your area.
Complete the Petition to Probate Will form and file it with the clerk, paying any required filing fees.
Ask the probate court to approve all title transfers in accordance with the last will and testament of the deceased.
Prepare title transfers for each property being transferred from the deceased to the surviving spouse or any named beneficiary in the will. The new deeds will then be signed by the executor of the will and approved by the court.
If a spouse dies with a last will and testament, any private or separate property owned by the deceased, such as property acquired before marriage or property that the deceased inherited, will be transferred as directed by the last will and testament.
If real property was jointly owned by the couple and the deed includes the right to survivorship, entire ownership of the property passes to the surviving spouse, regardless of any language in the last will and testament.