13 Things to Do When Surviving a Spouse

It’s an unfortunate fact of married life that most of us avoid thinking about: There is a decent chance that one spouse will outlive the other. Dwelling on the inevitability of this fact could certainly be unhealthy, but on the other hand we must all be prepared. Death brings not only emotional turmoil, but legal and financial headaches as well. We can help with the practical end of things; in the event that you’re the surviving spouse, follow this checklist to get these affairs in order.

Seek help. Delegating responsibility is the very first thing you should do. Ask a friend or family member to help you with the next twelve items on this list.

Gather documentation. Over the next few months, you will need copies of things like your marriage certificate, your spouse’s death certificate, life insurance policies, financial accounts, Social Security cards, deeds to property, and so on. Request about twelve copies of the death certificate, in particular. You will need it to complete a variety of tasks.

Arrange for a house sitter. Someone should stay in your home during the funeral services. Unfortunately some very heartless thieves monitor the obituaries section of the newspaper, and burglarize homes when they will be unattended.

Contact your spouse’s employer (or former employer). You might receive a payout of unused sick leave or vacation time, and you might need to complete some paperwork relating to your spouse’s retirement account.

Contact your life insurance company. Payouts of death benefits usually take several weeks to process.

Call your attorney. He or she should be notified immediately, to guide you through various aspects of legal procedures.

Pay the bills. This might seem obvious, but during grief we can forget very basic things like paying the electric bill. If your spouse handled your finances, you have a new skill to learn.

Call Social Security. You might be due spousal or survivor’s benefits.

If your spouse was a current or past member of the military, call the Veteran’s Administration. There might be special benefits available to you.

Change your beneficiary designations. If you previously named your spouse as your beneficiary on life insurance policies or your retirement accounts, you need to designate a new one.

Contact creditors. Close any accounts in your spouse’s name only, and remove their name from joint accounts. You don’t want an opportunistic criminal to get ahold of an account and begin using it for their own gain.

Remember to file taxes. You can still file a joint tax return in the spring following your spouse’s death. If you filed separately, you still need to file a return for your partner.

Give us a call. The death of your spouse can bring many changes to your financial life. Avoid making hasty decisions, and seek the guidance of experts as you navigate through these difficult times. We can help you make adjustments to your long-term financial plan, or decide upon your next steps.