12 Financial Steps to Take Immediately After the Death of a Spouse
Losing a spouse is a tremendous blow to anyone. Just keeping your composure through the grieving process can take all of your mental and physical strength. As a result, just thinking about how to manage financial obligations following the passing of a spouse can be crippling.
It’s OK. It’s natural.
To help ease some of the stress of protecting financial assets, we’ve compiled a checklist of the first things you should consider after the death of a spouse.
1. Consider asking a family member/friend for help.
Your mind will likely be on your loved one first — and your finances second. So it can pay to find someone to help handle the finances for you. Ask a loved one for help — preferably someone who has been in your shoes before.
2. Consider professional help.
Even if you obtain the help of a loved one, it may be wise to consider hiring a financial adviser or a lawyer to help you with all of the details/paperwork. The care management team at Intervention Associates can also be a great resource to help you sort through the web of legal and financial responsibilities coming your way. If your spouse was a member of a union, it’s possible it may be able to offer assistance as well.
3. Get a good paperwork organizer.
Find a good folder, a binder or briefcase to help you keep all of your documents, financial plans and contact numbers organized. You’ll need to carry around a lot of physical documents, so find an organizer that works best for you.
4. Gather up any and all documents.
Now’s the time to gather all of the paperwork you’ll need to reconcile all of your spouse’s financial obligations, assets and estate plans with your own. Even if you’re not sure whether you’ll need a particular document, grab it and keep it with you. The documents you’ll want to get hold of:
- Life insurance documents/contracts
- Birth certificates (for your spouse and his/her children)
- Marriage certificate
- Death certificates (You may need a few dozen copies of this. Financial institutions and past employers often need this to close accounts. Ask your funeral director for assistance with this.)
- Social Security cards (for both you and your spouse)
- Tax returns
- Bank statements & financial institution info
- Investment statements & institution info
- Retirement plan statements & institution info
- Military benefit info
- Loan statements
- Mortgage statements
- Lease info
- Health insurance info
- Medicare/Medicaid info
- Homeowner’s insurance info
- Motor vehicle titles
- Car insurance info
- Bills/bill pay info
- Credit card statements
- Union information
- Membership info (Were they paying recurring membership fees to gyms, clubs, businesses?)
- Funeral info (address, instructions and plans)
- Email addresses & social media account info
5. Close accounts.
Contact the financial institutions and businesses above that need to close your spouse’s account. Again, you may need death certificates to do this. Find out if there are any outstanding balances and/or debts that need to be paid. Make sure you look at credit/debit card statements to see what recurring charges were made to those cards. You may have to close accounts with various merchants who had permission to automatically bill those cards.
6. Evaluate assets to pay off debts.
Determine if there are enough assets in the estate to pay off any outstanding balances and/or debts.
7. Find bills.
If your spouse was in charge of paying your bills, find out all of the bills they paid and when. Your bank may be able to help provide you with this information — as can a review of bank statements and credit card bills.
8. Contact employers.
If your spouse was employed, contact their employer to inform it of what has happened. Find out what (if anything) you’re entitled to. You may be due money from your spouse’s accrued vacation or sick time. You may also have to pick up a final paycheck. If you were covered under your spouse’s health insurance, ask about options for continuing coverage. If you’re employed, contact your employer and find out what (if any) benefits you’re entitled to. Some companies offer bereavement leave, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may allow you to take time off as well.
9. Contact an attorney.
Chances are you’ll need the help of an attorney if there is a will/trust.
10. Check credit reports.
You’ll want to pull credit reports for you and your spouse — and check with the three major credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to make sure you’re aware of all existing debts and that no outstanding balances are damaging your credit.
11. Update names on deeds and titles.
If your spouse’s name is on any deeds or titles for any of your joint property, you’ll want to get them updated.
12. Inquire about benefits.
You may be entitled to certain benefits for any organization your spouse was associated with. Places to check with:
- The Social Security Administration (inquire about spousal and survivor benefits).
- Any union your spouse was a member of.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs (if your spouse was in the military).
- Higher education institutions (If you had a child in school, they may be entitled to financial aid).