Finances After the Death of a Spouse


All Categories, Featured, When Life Happens | by: Karen Brandt, Marketing Director

When you are facing the death of a spouse, you may be feeling unsteady and vulnerable. You might not be ready to think about the practical and financial impact of losing your loved one.

It makes good sense to put off major financial decisions — such as selling property or moving —  for six months to a year, while feelings are still so raw. But following these simple steps will help you get through the logistics of the early days more smoothly.

Surround yourself with support

Dealing with money matters while mourning the death of a spouse can be overwhelming, especially if the death was unexpected. Call on close family members, friends and clergy and let them know you need their emotional support.

Notify your employer and your spouse’s employer. Then contact the professionals who will guide you through the logistical and financial aspects of the days ahead: your financial advisor, attorney, insurance professional, and accountant. Add their personal contact information to your cell phone for easy access.

Decide if you want to take down your spouse’s social media profiles. For example, Facebook will “memorialize” a profile after someone has died. People vary in their feelings about maintaining this online presence – it’s a personal decision.

Organize passwords, documents and bills

In a perfect world, your late spouse has left you the passwords to online financial accounts. You will also need to organize the paper documents of your financial life together: life insurance policies, current bank and brokerage statements, credit card statements, tax returns, and bills.

Gather Social Security cards and any estate planning documents such as wills and trusts, deeds and titles. Find your marriage certificate, birth or adoption certificates, military discharge papers, employee benefits handbooks, car titles, and powers of attorney.

Ask your funeral director for about ten copies of your spouse’s death certificate. You’ll need these to claim life insurance or veterans benefits, close financial accounts, change ownership of investments, and so on.

If any of your bills are not on autopay, be sure to continue paying them during this time, so your finances stay current and you avoid late fees.

Settle your spouse’s estate

The executor named in your spouse’s will — often the surviving spouse — is responsible for settling the estate. These are the steps in the process:

  • Report your spouse’s death to the Social Security Administration
  • Contact all insurance companies to file claims: individual and group life insurance, mortgage insurance, auto credit life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment insurance, credit card insurance and annuities.
  • Get in touch with your spouse’s workplace to collect any salary, vacation, or sick pay owed to your spouse, and ask about continuing health insurance coverage, as well as any survivor’s benefits for spouse or children.
  • Contact all credit card companies and let them know of the death.
  • File the will with the probate court.

Get a handle on your cash flow

While this isn’t the time to make big financial decisions, you’ll gain financial confidence knowing what’s coming in and going out each month. This information is at your fingertips if you use an online financial dashboard such as Wealth View to track expenses and income.

You will want to know your fixed monthly expenses, such as groceries, mortgage, car, utilities and insurance. Then, summarize your sources of income, including salary, dividends, interest, Social Security, pension payments and IRA distributions.

Once you see the monthly picture, you’ll be able to make decisions regarding how closely you should budget and if there might be room for spending on entertainment, travel, or gifts.

With support and guidance over time, you’ll find you can rebuild your financial life and recover from the financial impact of the loss of your spouse.

This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations to any individual.