What To Do After The Death of A Spouse
One of the most stressful and inevitable moments in your life is losing your spouse. It’s a lot to handle and not always easy to process, especially when it happens very suddenly. But unfortunately, death can occur unexpectedly and catches people out of the blue. It takes a lot of time to recover from something like that, and being with loved ones in a moment like that is very important.
Friends and family can help you cope with your loss, listen to you, and your heart will heal little by little. And when most of us try not to think about painful moments like this, we need to be prepared. While professional psychologists recommend taking your time to cope and grieve, some financial steps simply cannot wait.
So what do you need to do to prepare for this event that will happen?
Step 1: Pull All Your Financial Accounts In One Place
The first important step is to look at the inventory of all your financial accounts and debts. This included all the assets, joint and individual bank accounts, credit cards, and investment accounts as well as any payments owed. You may have even started a spreadsheet if you want to keep everything digital, or even on old pen and paper. Grab that list or create it if you do not have one to make sure you have the fun financial picture in view.
If you are not married or a widow, make sure you have a trusted party that knows about the details of your financial accounts and where your inventory list is located. Ensure you have an estate or will in place so you can ensure your hard-earned assets go exactly where you want them.
Step 2: Obtain Death Certificates & Will
The second step will be to obtain the will and multiple copies of the death certificate that you will need to provide to certain financial companies. The certificate will be necessary to transfer ownership of the assets or even retitle items like the mortgage. You must also ensure that the funeral director you’re working with to notify the Social Security Administration of the death of your spouse and request multiple copies of the death certificate. The price of the certified copy varies from state to state and typically costs between $5 to $25 per certificate.
The pre-established will is also essential to obtain if one is available. A will lists the executor of your spouse’s estate; in most cases, it’s the deceased’s spouse. Bear in mind that most of the assets are jointly owned by the married couple meaning if one dies, the survivor receives all of them. But it’s common to have a will that names who will get the assets that weren’t jointly owned. So a will will be important to have ready in this life situation.
Step 3: Notify All the Important Organizations
The next step will include making some phone calls and in-person visits to organizations affiliated with your spouse, such as:
Social Security Administration
As mentioned above, in most cases, the funeral director will help report the death to the SSA and request copies of the death certificate. But ultimately, you need to ensure it is completed as you will need it for several subsequent steps. Also, there may be benefits paid by Social Security for the deceased spouse, so it is very important to notify them.
You need to call your spouse’s insurance company to notify them and start the claim process. You want to call this entity as soon as possible since processing the claim may take some time, and the funds you receive can help pay for funeral expenses. Based on the insurance and coverage of your spouse, the entities you may need to contact are:
- Funeral or burial insurance. This one is the policy that your spouse may have obtained to cover the funeral costs and other end-of-life expenses.
- Life insurance (whole life or term life insurance). Term life insurance is the least expensive option and is often chosen because of its simplicity. Whole life insurance never expires as long as you keep making your premium payments. This insurance premium can be used to pay for funeral expenses, to replace your spouse’s income or even pay off debt.
- Health insurance. This one needs to be contacted to cancel the ongoing premium payments and ensure all the medical bills are covered, and there are no outstanding payments.
Credit Bureaus. When someone passes away, their credit reports aren’t closed automatically, and all three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – need to be notified. In addition, you will need to request to put a “death notice” on the credit reports to prevent identity theft or fraud.
This way, the credit reports of your loved one will be sealed with the death notice on them to prevent any scams, which could ultimately end up being your responsibility.
Current & Past Employers. If your spouse’s place of work provides health insurance benefits or 401(k), you need to notify the human resources department. It’s a good idea to contact ALL of your spouse’s previous employers because some retirement or pension plans haven’t been transferred to the current employer, and you may be eligible to receive benefits from them.
Step 4: Review Your Current Financial Situation
If you kept up with your annual financial inventory, this step would be easy. Reviewing your financial situation is essential and doesn’t require immediate attention, but it is still better to take care of it in the few months after your spouse passes away. Your review needs to include the following:
- Calculating the assets and debts. This will include checking, saving, and investment accounts, houses, vehicles, and any real estate or land. Next, you must factor in any obligations such as mortgage, auto debt, credit card debt, etc.
- Update the asset ownership. You need to change any titles that were jointly held, such as home title, vehicle title, etc. Also, update ownership on the bank accounts, but it’s recommended to keep your spouse’s name on the account for at least six months in case any checks would come in.
- Rollover or transition investment accounts. If you’re a named beneficiary, all the investment and retirement accounts can be rolled over. You may also need to update your existing accounts to point out a beneficiary if you had your spouse listed as one.
- Filing taxes. When a person dies, their surviving spouse is usually responsible for filing the final tax return. On the tax return, a spouse needs to note that the person has died and the IRS doesn’t need any other notification or copy of the death certificate.
- Be rational with your financial decisions. Sometimes people, after suffering a significant loss, can make emotional decisions in regard to their finances or assets – such as selling the house or paying off the mortgage right away. And due to immense mental distress, decisions like that may not be the best for their current financial situation. Give yourself time for the decisions that can wait.
Step 5: Ask for Assistance
When you’re experiencing such a significant stressful moment in your life as losing your spouse, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance with essential decisions. First, reach out to family and friends who can listen and help you cope with your loss. Emotional support is crucial in times like these. Maybe your loved ones can take some of the to-do items on your list to help.
Also, reaching out to your financial advisor is important. With the number of decisions you have to make, you should reach for professional help regarding financial matters. Complex tasks like dealing with transitions or rollover of investment accounts should involve a trusted advisor to consider tax implications.
The same goes for updating your beneficiaries on the accounts and filing taxes. A knowledgeable professional can assist you with every step and provide the expertise needed.
A financial advisor can also update your financial plan to account for your new expenses and income and guide you with other steps like informing insurance, updating titles, and avoiding fraud that new widows and widowers can face.
In summary, losing your spouse is one of your life’s most painful and stressful moments, and coping with the loss will take a lot of time. The most important thing is to take that time to grieve and surround yourself with family and friends who support you. Allow yourself the time you need to adapt to the new normal, and then you can take on all the financial steps you need.
If you need assistance preparing for this type of life transition, we are here to help. Or maybe you have experienced loss and need help with the complicated transition of your financial accounts. Set an appointment with our experts and we can help you through this transition.
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