The immediate aftermath of a spouse’s death, regardless of whether or not you expected it, is a bewildering blur that many people actually can’t remember afterward. Unfortunately, there are also a number of important financial tasks that the recently widowed need to take care of immediately. Here’s a list of things to take care of in the days and weeks after the death of a spouse.
You don’t have to do everything on this list alone—in fact, the key to getting through the first weeks of widowhood is to ask for and accept help and to delegate as many tasks as possible.
- Contact a funeral home to arrange for both the disposition of your spouse’s remains and to start the process of getting death certificates. In many states death certificates are ordered through the funeral home—and you should plan on getting 5-10 originals.
- Contact your spouse’s employer. You should find out if he or she is still owed a final paycheck, if there was an employer-sponsored life insurance policy and how you can get any personal belongings from the office. If your family’s health insurance was through your deceased spouse’s employer, you should find out the exact date that your health insurance will expire.
- Contact your life insurance company. You can see if they will coordinate with the funeral home to pay for funeral expenses and deduct it from your insurance payout.
- Make a list of all of your bills—your rent/mortgage payment, your utilities bills, your cell phone, etc. Make sure that you know when and how to pay all of these bills—ideally, set them up to be paid automatically.
- Make a complete list of all of your spouse’s accounts of any kind—bank accounts, credit cards, cell phone, etc.
Once You Have a Death Certificate
Death certificates can take a while—but you need to have them in hand before you can tackle many of the financial tasks associated with widowhood. So getting death certificates should be your top priority. Once you have them, here are some things to do.
- Contact your local Social Security Office. If you have children, they might be eligible for monthly survivors’ benefits, and you should find out as soon as possible if that is the case.
- Change all of your joint accounts into your name only. This includes utility bills, bank accounts, cell phone plans, etc. Remember to preserve any voicemails you want to keep before canceling your spouse’s cell phone.
- If your spouse has federal student loans, contact the servicer. Most federal student loans are forgiven if the borrower dies.
- Contact the servicers for any other debts your spouse had. Whether or not you’re responsible for those debts depends on a number of factors, including whether or not you live in a community property state.
- Close any accounts that were only in your spouse’s name, from bank accounts to a Netflix account.
- Update your own emergency contact information.
- Update your own last will and testament, and life insurance beneficiary information.
Handling these financial tasks can be difficult in the fog of recent widowhood, but taking care of things promptly can save a lot of time, heartache and money in the long run. It’s worth repeating—getting help is essential. Even if you have to personally take care of many of these things yourself, having someone to give you a list of tasks and help you through them can make the difference between a financially smooth experience and a disaster that you spend years cleaning up.