what to do when a spouse dies checklist

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Our experience in designing and managing portfolios for High Net Worth and affluent clients is echoed in a pooled fund product.
At Exponent Investment Management, we help clients move from active business or professional income to passive investment income more commonly referred to as retirement. In other words, we help clients live from their investments and other income sources. We call it Your State of Independence.

Where TO start

It is essential that you understand the relevant documents in order to fulfill your role in the process of settling the estate.


Having a list of all the required tasks and the timing of their execution helps to minimize the stress in these trying times.

Estate inventory

The tedious process of reviewing the financial documents and making the inventory of an estate should be error free. Our expert assistance brings you comfort in this process.


Before accepting this responsibility, the executor named in the will needs to understand his or her role as an estate administrator. As to the beneficiaries, they have to decide whether to accept or to refuse the estate.

People close to you

How can they help in the short term? Could you delegate the executor role to one of them? Various considerations come into play. We help you see clearly both the advantages and the pitfalls

Chronology of settling an estate

Week 1

  • Advise the family
  • Contact the funeral home
  • Locate the will to organize the funeral according to the deceased’s wishes
  • Dependents, pets and assets

Within 1 month

  • Define who is the executor and make sure they understand their role
  • Advise the financial institutions, governments and utility services
  • Secure assets
  • Review pertinent documents

From 1 to 3 months

  • Inventory list and probate of will
  • Assets
  • Liabilities: existing or future
  • Contact the beneficiaries after producing the inventory

Within the first year

  • File the income tax report with the help of an accountant
  • Decide what to do with the assets
  • Explain the time frame for each step to the beneficiaries



The executor needs to understand the responsibilities involved in being an estate administrator


Communication needs to be effective and to take family dynamics into account before the beneficiaries accept the estate


  • Lawyer/notary to probate the will
  • Accountant to produce the three income tax reports
  • Financial advisor for the investments and pension plan settlement

Our Advisors Can Give You Clarity

Week 1

Advise the family

  • Advise the family members: do you have their contact information?
  • Ask them to advise close friends and other family members that you may not know (reconstructed families).

Contact the funeral home

  • Organize the funeral.
  • Funeral homes offer certain services, like requesting a provincial death certificate, cancelling a driver’s licence, etc.
  • Obtain confirmation of payments for the funeral and 8 copies of the statement of death.

Locate the will

  • Formal will
  • Handwritten will
  • Will with witnesses
  • Absent a will, ask family members if they know the deceased’s wishes regarding the funeral.

Dependents, Pets, Assets

  • Coordinate care for dependents and pets.
  • Make sure that arrangements are made for immediate financial needs.
  • Secure all assets: home, contents of the home, other real estate, safety deposit box, vehicles, perishable goods.

Within the 1st month

Define who the executor is

The estate administrator has to be in a position to execute his role depending on:

  • Family dynamics
  • Availability
  • Expertise
  • Living close to the deceased’s assets

Make sure they understand their role

  • Responsible for settling the estate according to the deceased’s wishes
  • Activities to perform
  • Meet with a lawyer/notary in Québec to probate the will
  • Provide regular updates to beneficiaries

As executor: Notify the financial institutions And governments

  • Apply for CPP benefits like death benefit ($2,500), and survivor benefits for spouse and children under 25 years of age.
  • Submit notification to CRA, OAS, CPP and GIS.
  • Submit notice of death to Equifax and TransUnion: at the same time, verify any credit outstanding.
  • Notify all service providers: utility companies, landlords, alarm companies.
  • Open an estate account at your financial institution.
  • Review pertinent documents like marriage contract, mortgage, creditor insurance, property insurance, investment statements, lease contracts, documents relating to financial obligations (separation agreement, divorce, court order…).
  • Stop subscriptions, home services, healthcare services.
  • Cancel all credit cards, memberships, cable, satellite, cell phone, Internet, RRSP/TFSA regular contributions, insurance payments.

From 1 to 3 months

Inventory list and Probate of the will

  • Preparing an inventory list will help the beneficiaries decide if they accept or refuse the estate.
  • Probate: confirm the last will and testament of the deceased
  • Reroute the mail


  • Personal insurance benefits
  • Investments, properties, valuable assets over $3,000
  • Obtain professional valuation for fixed assets
  • Find the original documents of the investments
  • Employment, health, pension and retiree benefits

Liabilities: existing or future

  • Find out about outstanding or future debts before accepting the estate
  • Contact the accountant about future tax bills, instalment payments, probate fees
  • Child support payments
  • Ex-spouse support payments
  • Obtain an Equifax or TransUnion report for existing loans

Contact beneficiaries

  • Provide a complete report of the assets and liabilities and set time expectations for liquidation to the beneficiaries
  • They have to accept or refuse the estate
  • Asset liquidation process
  • Prepare the first distributions of assets (personal and sentimental)

Within the first year

What will be done with the assets

Business owners - Possible business transfer:

  • Appraisal of equipment and buildings
  • Valuing the client base: EBITDA
  • Will a sibling beneficiary purchase the business? If so, an agreement will have to be reached with the other beneficiaries.

Real estate assets:

  • Will the spouse use the house until she/he decides to leave or at death?
  • reconstructed families or
  • children being equal beneficiaries with the mother (no-will estate)
  • Appraise the property for sale (maybe in a hurry for the beneficiaries’ needs)

File income tax reports

An accountant will help file the 1st income tax report (Jan. 1 to time of death), the 2nd report (time of death to end of year), and the final report once all assets are distributed.

Keep enough money in the estate account to pay for final taxes.

Manage Beneficiares’ Expectations

  • The beneficiaries have to be aware of the time needed to sell real estate or business assets.
  • If business transfer, many meetings will take place with a lawyer to draft the legal documents pertaining to payment method, transfer, etc.

Final documents after 1 year

Real estate assets

  • Finalize all legal documents for ownership or sales
  • Arrange for financing to pay off beneficiaries if need be

Business transfer

  • Consult with business transfer professionals
  • Create a business transfer agreement with beneficiaries


  • Calculate probate fees
  • Prepare probate application
  • File probate application with local courthouse (N/A in Qc)

Final Documents

  • Bring all pertinent documents to the accountant for final income tax preparation
  • Once the release letter has been received, prepare the asset distribution
  • Close the estate bank account

The Exponent Advantage

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Exponent Investment Management will

  • Help you with the tedious paperwork involved​
  • Connect you with professionals at each step
  • Prepare a financial plan to give you a road map of your new financial life
  • Create an investment portfolio to suit your needs

Why Choose Exponent Investment Management Inc.

Safekeeping of your assets by a third-party custodian

Our clients’ investments are held with National Bank Correspondent Network Inc. or Credential Correspondent Partners. These custodians give our clients the assurance and peace of mind that a recognized, independent party facilitates all transactions, administration and safeguarding of client assets. These institutions are member firms of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF).

100+ years of combined industry experience

Investing is a human capital endeavour where experience and continuity are important factors in achieving consistent success. Having an experienced team managing your investments matters!

Recognized industry education and accreditation

Our clients expect and value relevant education and accreditations. We believe that education combined with experience is an important part of the foundation for investment success.

After the estate is settled we provide ongoing support

Financial plan for the survivors

A financial plan will bring clarity to your finances and provide a road map to your future income.

Investment services

Portfolio management will give you peace of mind that your inheritance is growing for you and will generate continuing income.

Ongoing monitoring of your finances

Our professionals provide you with ongoing financial advice and monitoring when life events occur, such as retirement, marriage, or a move to another province.

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