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Virginia widow's advice about what to do before losing a spouse: 'He was my everything'

'I just wanted to share my story so somebody else won't have to go through what I went through'
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Posted at 2:27 PM, Apr 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-02 14:31:09-04

HAMPTON, Va. -- You never expect the worst to happen to your loved ones, but if it does and you're caught off guard it's important to make sure their finances and accounts are in order.

This is in the back of Theresa Brooks' mind as she sifts through old photos.

"We moved here in 1988," Brooks said.

A lot has changed since then, namely her husband Henry's death in 1996.

"I never thought that he would die at an early age and it was just so hard for me because he was my everything. He was the one that took care of everything in the house," she said.

He took care of everything, including the bills and as of this year, some were still in his name. Theresa said she closed their joint account, opened a new one and then continued to pay what was mailed to the house despite being addressed to Henry.

"All I did was just continued to pay the bills. I didn't know that I had to change it into my name," she said.

This came to light when Dominion Energy reached a settlement with regulators last year. The State Corporation Commission approved customer refunds totaling more than $330 million. In February, a check for $74.08 came in the mail for Mr. Henry A. Brooks.

"I thought it was gonna be an easy fit because my name is Brooks, his named Brooks. I'm the wife, I'm still here. And when we opened this account when we moved here in 1988, the account never ceased, you know?" she said.

However, that wasn't the case.

Naomi Cahn, a Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law said, "There's a lot of nitty gritty that is involved, in terms of transferring title to anything that is jointly held, or anything that the deceased person held in their own name."

Theresa said her late husband didn't leave a will or assign an executor of estate, which made the process all the more difficult.

"In the midst of grief and in the midst of worrying about funeral arrangements, as soon as possible thereafter, it's important to make an inventory of everything that the deceased person owns, and trying to make sure that all accounts are dealt with as quickly as possible. We will all overlook some of those accounts and the best thing to do is as soon as we discover that we have overlooked something, trying to change the title. And that hopefully is as simple as looking at procedures either online or calling the company," said Brooks.

Theresa's story is one example of what happens when an account is overlooked. After much back-and-forth, Dominion credited her the $74.08, but she said it was not about the money.

"When your husband dies, make sure you change all your utility bills into your name so you won't have to go through this problem," she said. "I think that we just have to care for one another, look out for one another in this world. I just wanted to share my story so somebody else won't have to go through what I went through."

Each utility company has its own policies so it's best to just reach out to them directly.

The big takeaways: create a will, pick a beneficiary and executor of the estate, and plan ahead — even if it's uncomfortable to talk about.

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