After the funeral has concluded and friends and family have gone home, the real impact of losing your spouse often hits.
You must find a way to carry on, and decisions you used to make together now fall squarely on your shoulders.
At this time, it’s important not to make any major life decisions while still grieving. Consult the professional advisers you trust to help you prioritize the most immediate financial tasks.
Here are the most immediate financial steps to consider:
1. Probate the will
The executor’s responsibility is to probate the will, which is done by filing a petition for probate (prepared by your attorney) in your county of residence.
This legal process takes a few weeks to several years, depending on the estate’s complexity.
2. File life insurance claims
You will need to contact your agent or life insurance company for the paperwork to file a death benefit claim.
For life insurance through an employer, contact the company’s human resources department to acquire and file death benefit claim paperwork.
Discuss with your financial planner the best use for these life insurance proceeds.
3. Apply for benefits
If you were over age 60 when your spouse died, visit your local Social Security office to see if you are entitled to a one-time death benefit from Social Security.
If your spouse received military disability payments, contact the Veterans Administration to determine if those benefits can be paid to you.
If your spouse was employed when he/she died, contact the employer’s human resources department to determine any surviving spouse benefits to which you are entitled.
4. Retitle accounts
Jointly-titled bank or investment accounts should be retitled into your name, or if appropriate, into your revocable living trust.
Your financial institutions will be able to help you update the ownership on these accounts.
Keep in mind that death certificate copies may be required to facilitate these changes.
5. Update loans, bills and other obligations
Make a list – by owner – of all the regular payments made from your checkbook or online banking system. This creates a roadmap for your next steps.
Then, contact all businesses where you have joint accounts to have your spouse’s name removed from these accounts. For accounts in just your spouse’s name, let those vendors know the account is now subject to probate and will be handled by the estate.
Try to do this within one billing cycle so you don’t incur late fees.
Remember, a death certificate copy may be required for name updates.
6. Cancel payments
You should be able to cancel most memberships and subscriptions outright without any further obligation. Call customer service to notify them of the death.
Other important longer-term topics to discuss with your trusted advisers include:
- Looking at your investment portfolio for possible changes to meet your current needs.
- Deciding whether to continue living in your current home or to move.
- Making larger purchases, such as a new car, or remodeling your home.
- Updates to your own estate plan and life insurance policies (eventually).
A final word
The loss of a spouse is one of the most stressful events in life. At such a difficult time, it’s important to take care of yourself and rely on your trusted advisers to help you manage your affairs.
That way, you can secure your financial future and avoid any unnecessary risks or sacrifices to your current lifestyle.