Losing a spouse may be one of life’s most difficult and painful events. As many widows will tell you, there is no way to be truly prepared for it. The decisions you have to make when your spouse dies can be overwhelming. Not only are you dealing with your own personal grief, but with facing life’s new circumstances on your own—including handling the entirety of your financial affairs.
If you have a financial professional you and your late spouse worked with, reach out to them right away. Even if that advisor isn’t someone you imagine you will stay with in the future, they will at least have knowledge of your personal and spousal financial affairs and can help you start to sort things out.
At the immediate time of death, there is nothing that needs to happen from a legal standpoint. Most experts recommend postponing all major financial decisions, if possible, until you can seek counsel who can guide you through this transition.
Once you do begin to pick up the pieces in the wake of your loss, take it slow. Do one small thing a day that helps you make progress without overwhelming you. Take your time and lean on the help of your friends, family, and advisors to move through the following list.
1) Order several copies of the death certificate. You’ll likely need anywhere between 5 and 10 copies (but possibly more), depending on the accounts that your loved one had open. Your funeral director may be able to help you order them, or you can order them yourself from city hall or your local records office.
2) Locate your estate plan and if necessary, estate planning attorney. You may need to start the probate process with the will. If the estate is relatively small, doesn’t contain unusual assets, and isn’t likely to be disputed by family members you may be able to handle it on your own.
3) Contact your spouse’s employer. The human resources department can help you with information on benefits and beneficiaries as well as retirement plans or pensions. If you or your children were covered by your spouse’s medical insurance, inquire about continuing coverage.
4) Contact the Social Security office. You can reach them by phone at 1-800- 772-1213 or visit them at https://www.ssa.gov/. You (and any dependents) may qualify for survivors’ benefits. Consult with your Certified Financial Planner before filing for any benefits in order to maximize those that may be available to you.
5) Identify and pay important bills. Make a list of bills that are likely to be due (e.g. mortgage, car payments, electricity), and do your best to track them down via the person’s mail and online accounts. Set up a plan to ensure these bills continue to be paid on time.
6) Notify all insurance companies, including life and health.
Fill out the claim form for any life insurance policies that the deceased had. Also, suggest that friends and family who may have listed your loved one on their own life insurance policies update theirs. Cancel any policies that your late spouse was on. This could include health insurance, car insurance, homeowner’s insurance or anything else. Depending on the policy, reach out to either the insurance company or your loved one’s employer to stop coverage.
7) Help prevent identity theft. Cancel your late spouse’s driver’s license, close credit card accounts, and notify the credit bureau of their passing.
8) Run a credit report on your late spouse. Your late spouse may have accounts open that can be identified by running a credit report. Once this is accomplished, then you will need to provide copies of the death certificate to Experian, Equifax and TransUnion in order to minimize the risk of identity theft. It’s also a good idea to check your loved one’s credit history in another month or two to confirm that no new accounts have been opened.
9) Locate all your loved one’s assets. Create an inventory and identify the accounts that you need to transfer ownership from. You’ll likely need a death certificate for each account.
10) Close email and social media accounts. Once you feel like you have all the information you need from your loved one’s email, it’s prudent to go ahead and close those accounts as an additional step to prevent against identify fraud and/or theft. On social media, you can memorialize their account. This lets friends continue to post and share memories, but will keep anyone from logging in in the future.
Enlist Support Right Away
The best time to secure help with these and other important tasks is as soon as your loved one passes. While waiting until things calm down may feel like the right thing to do, the decisions made in these early weeks and months will have a long-lasting impact on your future and shouldn’t be made in haste or without due diligence.
If you or a loved one has recently lost a spouse, or are anticipating the loss of a spouse, we encourage you to reach out. You may be on your own, but you don’t have to handle these critical tasks alone. Schedule a call with one of our specially trained advisors to get the support you need from our team of advisors today.