Death of a Spouse
The death of a spouse is a tremendously saddening and often overwhelming event. While many important financial matters can't be put on hold during the grieving process, the process can be made manageable.
- Gather financial documents. As soon as you can, collect and organize all documents related to your finances such as financial statements, insurance policies, tax returns, your marriage certificate, children's birth certificates and the deceased's will.
- Assess your current financial situation. The loss of an income can result in short-term cash flow problems. Assess your situation and trim expenses accordingly to ensure you can cover the basics while sorting out other matters.
- Obtain extra copies of the death certificate. Most companies will require an original death certificate to change or close an account or issue an insurance claim. Your funeral home or the coroner's office should be able to help you.
- Update all accounts. Notify your financial institutions and insurance companies of your spouse's death and change the information on accounts, titles and deeds. This also is a good time to update beneficiary designations on your insurance and investments such as your 401(k).
- Contact your spouse's employer. If your spouse was employed at the time of death, contact the company's human resources department. There may have been a company-sponsored life insurance policy and your spouse may be owed for unpaid vacation time or other unclaimed benefits.
- Contact past employers.You may be entitled to a pension plan payment, particularly if your loved one worked for a government agency.
- Call Social Security. If your spouse worked long enough to qualify, you may be entitled to benefits. In addition, minor children may qualify for separate benefits. Be sure to have their Social Security numbers handy when you call.
- Contact any other applicable agencies and groups. If your spouse was a veteran, you may be eligible for burial-related benefits. Locate your spouse's discharge papers and contact the nearest Department of Veterans Affairs office for more information. Labor unions, groups and associations also may offer benefits or assistance if your spouse was a member.
- Take your time. While it's important to address certain debts and obligations right away, develop a long-term financial plan and explore tax implications before making major decisions.
- Seek expert advice. It may be difficult to make decisions while dealing with grief. Seek input from a trusted team of advisers including your attorney, tax adviser, banker and financial planner to walk you through the above recommendations and help you understand your next steps and legal and tax requirements.