Losing a spouse is undoubtedly one of life’s most emotionally challenging experiences and navigating the road ahead can feel complex and difficult. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed at what lies ahead, especially if you weren’t heavily involved in the family’s finances before now. Your grief and stress are overwhelming, and the last thing you want to do is make a mistake that could jeopardize your financial future.
Below we’ve gathered a list of the most important tasks widows should focus on following the death of their spouse.
To-Do #1: Find a Financial Advisor
Your family’s financial life is complex, and the decisions you make following the loss of a spouse can have lifelong consequences. The problem is, now is an incredibly emotional and stressful time in your life. You may not feel you are in the best state-of-mind to be making big life decisions. You need a knowledgeable and compassionate partner who understands the position you’re in and can help you navigate your new responsibilities.
A financial advisor will look at your full financial picture and coordinate with your other professionals (such as attorneys or accountants) to help you make thoughtful and timely decisions. Before moving forward with the rest of your financial to-do list, we highly recommend speaking with a financial advisor first.
To-Do #2: Contact Social Security
The funeral home will typically notify Social Security of a person’s death, but it’s a good idea to double-check that this is the case. If your spouse was already receiving payments, they will terminate in the month the person has passed. If your spouse passed in March but had already received March’s benefits, for example, they will need to be returned. You’ll also receive a one-time small death benefit.
If you are 60 or older, you may apply for survivor benefits. We recommend working with your advisor and contacting the Social Security office, however, because you may be able to switch between survivor benefits and your own work-record benefits to maximize your payments.
To-Do #3: Make a Life Insurance Claim
Contact the life insurance agency that holds any related policies for your spouse. They’ll let you know what information they need in order to process the claim, such as the cause of death, a copy of the death certificate, Social Security info, etc.
Your insurer may offer you a savings account to put the payout into, but talk to your advisor first before saying yes or no. These accounts may not be federally insured or pay interest on the account balance.
To-Do #4: Update Accounts and Property Title Info
This may be a particularly tedious to-do item, depending on how many accounts you and your spouse have. Each institution or bank has its own policies for changing account information, so be prepared for this to take some time — and don’t feel like you have to rush it. In fact, you may want to keep some accounts open with your spouse’s name for the time being, since you may still receive money in their name.
Make a list of every account that is either in their name or is jointly owned including:
- Checking and savings accounts
- Retirement savings accounts
- Brokerage accounts
- Line(s) of credit
- Credit cards
To-Do #5: Speak to Creditors
If your spouse had debts in his name, call each creditor to find out what their policy is when a borrower passes away.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), remaining debts are typically paid from what’s left in the deceased’s estate. However, if you’re the surviving spouse, you’re not responsible for paying back your deceased spouse’s debt unless you shared a legal responsibility for it (say you co-signed the loan or had a joint account with the lender).
The CFPB warns widows that debt collectors may still try to contact you following the death of a spouse, but it’s illegal for them to say you’re responsible for covering the remainder of the debt with your own money.
If this is something you’re concerned about, your financial advisor can work with you and your attorney to determine what you’re responsible for paying back.
Remember, We’re Here to Help
Grief doesn’t come with a guidebook, which makes the months following the loss of a loved one incredibly difficult to navigate. Our women-led team of advisors specializes in helping women who are experiencing a deep loss and transitioning to a new phase of life. Through ongoing support, compassion, and guidance, our goal is to help simplify your financial life. If you’d like to speak with someone who understands what you’re experiencing, feel free to reach out to us today.