When Your Spouse Dies: Taking the Helm

spouse dies

One of the most difficult experiences in life is when a spouse dies. While grieving the loss of your partner, you may also feel overwhelmed by the important financial decisions you face. These decisions could have a lasting impact on your financial future.

Nobody can ever be completely prepared to deal with loss, especially when compounded by legal and financial concerns. But there are steps you can take to ease the burden of extra stressors that you may encounter.

Seeking Support

It is important to realize that grief affects everyone differently. Your relationship with your spouse, the presence of children, and your beliefs all play a role. Previous experiences with death also factor into how you process events. There is no “right” way to grieve, and there is no time frame for recovery.

Some people find solace among others who have experienced a similar loss through a bereavement support group. You can find these groups through a local hospital, place of worship, or community center. Others may find comfort and relief through work, exercise, a new hobby, or time spent with good friends. Reach out to those who have offered to help you. Whatever you do during this time, remember to take care of yourself and know that you are not alone.

Certain matters do need your immediate attention, including:

    • Notifying family and friends;
    • Making funeral arrangements; and
    • Contacting your attorney to review the will and handle the legal aspects of the estate.

It’s OK to let your family, closest friends, and trusted advisors help you with these details and short-term decisions. Be careful making major financial decisions like selling your home or making major purchases. Changes in your career and in your investments can often be delayed.

6 Tips To Remember

  • Get several certified copies of the death certificate. You’ll need them when claiming life insurance benefits and Social Security benefits.
  • Consult immediately with the family attorney. She can guide you through many of the legal and tax issues.
  • File for death benefits. If the funeral home doesn’t do it for you, call your local Social Security office. Notify your financial planner. If applicable, also notify the Veteran’s Administration or the benefits manager at your spouse’s employer.
  • Find out about medical coverage. If you depend on your spouse’s insurance, contact their employer and exercise your right to keep that policy in force. Learn the options for either converting or acquiring new coverage.
  • Keep detailed records. Tracking the money that comes in and goes out in the first few months can help create a budget.
  • Manage assets wisely. Postpone some financial decisions that are less important and can wait. Later, you may be in a better frame of mind to make major decisions.

Taking Charge of Your Finances

If your spouse was the primary breadwinner or managed the family finances, it may take time to assess your financial situation. Enlist the help of your attorney, financial professional, or even a family member or friend. They can help you sort through important papers and documents.

During the first few months, pay the outstanding bills and track cash flow and liquidity. Keep a running list of financial questions as they arise, and be sure to seek guidance and support. You’ll get to the point where important decisions will need to be made. Determine your income needs and create a system for managing your money.

Some decisions will be easy, especially if based on financial need. Others may be based on what you feel is best for you and your family. Will you want or need to work? If you are currently employed, will you stay in the same position? If you have not worked for some time, will you need more education or enhance your technical skills? It may take time to feel comfortable making major decisions on your own, but professionals can help you determine your next steps.

In a perfect world, a family will have their financial affairs in order before a sudden loss occurs. However, life is unpredictable. So, be sure to organize and safely file your important papers, including:

  • Marriage and birth certificates;
  • Tax returns;
  • Retirement account records;
  • Insurance policies;
  • Investment and bank statements; and
  • Estate planning documentation.

Should such circumstances arise, you or your loved ones will be better prepared.

 

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