Facing the Unthinkable: 9 Steps to Take Following the Death of a Spouse

Facing the Unthinkable: 9 Steps to Take Following the Death of a Spouse article image

In the wake of the death of a spouse, there are few things you’d rather put off more than handling your household financial portfolio. Especially if your spouse was more involved in the day-to-day management than you, it can quickly become burdensome to locate accounts, pay bills and re-budget on one income. The following set of tips will hopefully be of some help to you as you navigate this difficult journey and provide comfort as you face this overwhelming task.

Tip #1 - Implement a “Decision Free Zone:” The worst time to make a major financial decision is during a highly-emotional period in your life. We encourage you to set aside at least six months following the death of your spouse within which you do not make any major financial maneuvers beyond the regular payment of bills or handling of your spouse’s estate matters. Deciding to sell your house (if not immediately necessary) or cashing out a large investment to take a vacation may seem like a good idea at the time, but after a while you may begin to second-guess that decision. Take some time to heal – you can always make the decision later.

Tip #2 – Get Organized: If you were not the primary day-to-day financial manager, you may feel like you are facing an uphill battle trying to locate accounts, internet passwords and statements for your financial documents. However, there truly is no time like the present – and it may help to arrange tax documents, household bills, investment statements and estate documents in color-coded folders to make locating each easier for you.

Tip #3 – Keep the Status Quo: Financial experts recommend keeping your joint bank account for at least one year following the death of your spouse. There are often instances of unexpected checks or benefits arriving that you will need a place to deposit.

Tip #4 – Death Certificates: You will need at least 10-15 copies of your spouse’s death certificate in order to effectuate a smooth transfer of financial accounts. The funeral home will likely be able to help you with this detail.

Tip #5 – Determine Household Cash Flow: It will take a couple months to get completely acclimated to paying household bills and maintaining monthly cash flow. One of the first steps you should take after locating and assessing your monthly obligations is comparing this amount to your income. If you determine that you might not have enough to get by in the first few months, you may need to consider cashing out an investment or two – starting with any that do not incur a penalty.

Tip #6 – Contact Social Security and the Veteran’s Administration: If eligible, you can begin receiving survivor’s benefits from the Social Security Administration as early as age 60. If your spouse is a veteran of the United States military, there may be additional benefits available, including payment for burial.

Tip #7 – Communicate with Creditors: Probably the most tedious of the tedious involves communicating with creditors. However, if your spouse held any debt solely, you are generally not responsible for repaying this obligation. If you are having difficulty making debt payments in the first few months following the death, the credit card companies and mortgage servicer may be willing to work with you to avoid default, repossession or foreclosure.

Tip #8 – Contact Your Spouse’s Employer: If your spouse was still working at the time of death, you should contact the human resources department to determine if he has unpaid wages, benefits or other compensation. There may be important documents for you to sign or review as well.

Tip #9 – Get Some Help: No one expects you to handle everything on your own. Working with trusted financial and legal advisors through this process can be very helpful to alleviate the overwhelming nature of making post-funeral financial arrangements.