After years, you finally decided to divorce.

That was a difficult decision. And going through divorce wasn’t much easier.

It never is.

Then, one day in the middle of your divorce, you get a call.

The person calling tells you your spouse died of a freak accident/drunk driving/drug overdose/heart attack/whatever.

You’re devastated. Your kids are devastated. You never wanted this person to die. You just wanted a divorce.

After the shock wears off, you are left with a question: what do I do now about the divorce?

The answer is actually pretty simple: in almost all situations, you don’t need to do much.

Since you’re still married, the death of your spouse does the same thing as death at any other point during your marriage.

In the vast majority of cases, this means:

  1. You will receive full custody of the children of the marriage.

If you and your spouse had kids or adopted kids together during the marriage, you receive full custody of those kids upon your spouse’s death.

(Note: this is different if your spouse had kids with someone else. Those step kids almost certainly will go to the other living parent.)

  1. You will receive all marital assets you shared with your spouse at the time of your spouse’s death.

If you had marital assets, you will get those assets automatically upon your spouse’s death.

This might not hold if you spouse had a will leaving certain assets to someone other than you. Also, if your spouse had elaborate trusts and other asset protection vehicles, those might complicate matters.

Additionally, you may receive your spouse’s non-marital assets if your spouse signed a will leaving those assets to you.

Lastly, make sure you receive any life insurance proceeds. People often forget about this.

To be safe, you should sit down with a wills and trusts attorney (also called a probate or estate planning attorney) to ensure you receive all the assets due to you upon your spouse’s death.

  1. You will be responsible for debts on which you were named a debtor before your spouse’s death.

Just because your spouse has passed doesn’t mean all the debts pass as well.

If you were a co-debtor on a debt (e.g., home mortgage, car loan, consolidated student loans), then you will very likely still be responsible for paying that debt.

Again, probably not a bad idea to sit down with a wills and trusts attorney to see what if any debts you are still responsible to pay.

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