A surviving spouse should still consult with an estate attorney
If an estate has a surviving spouse and moderate assets below the estate tax exclusion, readers may assume that there may be minimal need for an attorney's help.
However, the amount of paperwork that must be attended to can overwhelm even the most organized individual. In addition, there are legal provisions that are fairly new to estate tax law, such as the surviving spouse's portability election. The surviving spouse may need to file an estate tax return to elect portability, even if estate taxes are not due. Without an attorney's oversight, a surviving spouse may not even realize that he or she has overlooked this or other issues.
Consider the list of entities that typically must be notified after a spouse's passing, which may include employers, the Social Security Administration, insurance companies, credit card companies and other creditors, banks and financial institutions, utility companies, and institutions where the deceased had a membership. Contacting these institutions and/or individuals is necessary not only for financial reasons, but also to prevent potential identity theft.
Even for jointly owned assets, like the marital home, it may be a good idea to transfer the asset into the name of the surviving spouse. Many banks and financial entities also require this for any joint accounts.
Finally, an attorney can also help a surviving spouse to maximize any benefits. If insurance premiums were paid on mortgages, credit card agreements, car loans or other policies, cash benefits may be due to heirs. The deceased may also have an employment pension and unused vacation that could be paid to heirs.
Source: Forbes, "The Surviving Spouse Estate Tax Trap," Ashlea Ebeling, March 25, 2015