No matter the circumstances, you can never fully prepare for the devastating loss of your spouse or partner, and it can be overwhelming trying to make decisions about finances while grieving. Depending on the specific details and the support you have around you, there will be a number of urgent matters to deal with as well as many things that will play out over time. We’ve created a brief checklist to help you prioritize these matters over the next few months.
After a difficult loss, it’s important to take time to grieve and be with family members and loved ones. While we don’t recommend making major financial decisions right now, there are a few things that you should take care of. Here are some important financial moves you should consider after your spouse dies.
Loss of Spouse: Financial Checklist & Timeline
Things to do immediately after a spouse’s death:
- Notify immediate family and close friends.
Accept help from loved ones, whether it’s helping notify people of your spouse’s death or arranging meals, childcare, or accommodations for loved ones coming in from out of town for the funeral.
- Manage organ donations or medical considerations.
- Contact the funeral home or crematory.
Of note, if your husband or wife was a Veteran, they may qualify for burial in a national cemetery for free or for payments for burial expenses elsewhere, as well as additional benefits such as a ceremonial flag or headstone. You can get more information on the Veterans Affairs website.
- Contact your attorney.
The laws and procedures vary from state to state. Work with your attorney to understand what you will need to do as the surviving spouse to settle the estate.
Things to do within the first week after the death of your spouse:
- Contact your financial advisor.
Your financial advisor will help you evaluate and organize all of your benefits and financial assets. They can also update your financial plan and assist you in creating a budget that meets your needs. Your advisor should also help you make a customized checklist of the things you need to consider and handle over the next year as well as a checklist of all the documents you need to collect.
- Locate the will, funeral directions, and/or any Trust documents.
These may be in a safe deposit box, lockbox or filed with your attorney. Ensure you have the key or code needed to access these locations.
- Request death certificates.
Get a dozen certified copies of the death certificate from the funeral director or county clerk. There is usually a small charge for this.. These are needed to claim pension benefits, social security, life insurance, bank accounts, change titles, etc.
- Call your banks and credit unions to update account information.
Close any accounts that are no longer needed, and update any death benefit information on file. Be sure to check on any recurring bills that may need updated payment information.
- Collect account statements.
Collect all the account statements from banks, brokerage, insurance, annuities, credit cards, pensions, social security, real estate, foundations, LLCs etc. You will be contacting each of these institutions to change titles and select benefits.
- Submit an obituary, if desired, and arrange for someone to stay at your home during the funeral.
Unfortunately, burglars take advantage of the public knowledge that you are out of the house for a few hours. Ask someone you trust to keep an eye on things while you are gone. Ask for help from family and friends.
- Contact your spouse’s current and former employers.
You’ll need to notify your spouse’s current employer and check on benefits due to their beneficiaries. Inquire about any retirement or pension plans as well as life insurance and medical insurance coverage if you or your children were covered through your spouse’s employer. You may also want to notify your employer as well, as the loss of a spouse is often considered a “life event” that could trigger changes in your benefits.
- Notify all insurance companies.
You’ll want to begin the process as soon as possible, as it can take weeks to process some claims.
Things to do within the first month:
- Contact the Social Security Administration.
Request information from the SSA on spousal and survivor benefits.
- Contact any organizations in which your spouse was a member.
Contact the VA if your spouse served in the military. Request info about survivor’s benefits from any labor unions with which your spouse was affiliated.
- Send a letter to all three major credit bureaus.
Request a copy of your spouse’s credit reports and ask to assign a notification in their report to ensure no new credit is taken out in their name from all three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
- Update titles and deeds of your assets and properties.
Update to remove your spouse’s name and make sure any property insurance policies are updated as well as getting appraisals done for your properties.
Things to do within the first six months after your spouse passes:
- Notify your accountant/tax preparer.
You’ll need to file taxes for the year in which your spouse died and pay all taxes due.
- Cancel accounts.
Cancel email accounts, social media profiles, and subscriptions/memberships no longer needed.
- If you have a child in college, contact the financial aid office.
Depending on your situation, your child may qualify for more financial assistance.
- Take care of yourself.
Self care is important, and grieving takes time. Make sure to take care of yourself, and remember there is no need to make any major financial decisions during this time.
Documents and Information You’ll Need After Your Spouse Dies
- Wills or Trusts
- Death certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Birth certificates
- Social Security Numbers
- Life insurance policies
- Power of attorney
- Pension and retirement account statements, including IRAs, Roth IRAs, and 401(k)s
- Account statements from: banks, brokerage, insurance, annuities, credit cards, pensions, social security, real estate, foundations, LLCs
- Real estate documents – deeds, leases, insurance policies
- Mortgage and loan statements
- Asset titles including to cars, trucks, and RVs
- Insurance statements for car insurance, health insurance, and homeowner’s/renter’s
- Tax returns
- Recurring bills
- Keys or a code to the safe deposit box or lockbox
- List of trusted advisors and their contact information