Partners for life. That’s the image most of us have when we marry. Someone who ideally will help ease life’s worries and who makes us laugh. Someone we imagine growing old with.
When a spouse dies, whether suddenly or after a long illness, the loss is often felt in waves of grief. As you’re dealing with emotions, such as shock, sadness, regret or even relief, you’re also expected to take charge of next steps. Who will alert friends and family of the death, handle funeral arrangements and pay bills? What did your spouse want? What do you want?
The questions keep coming as you figure out issues as old as wills and as new as identity theft. It can help to have a timeframe around what you will need to handle in the first three months.
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Within 30 days
In this early time after a beloved partner’s death, you need to:
Obtain death certificate for notification purposes
A funeral director can help you get certified copies of your spouse’s death certificate. Note: you will need a dozen or so copies as you finalize his or her affairs. Be aware that there is a charge for these. You can also obtain them through your county clerk’s office.
Gather all of your spouse’s (and your) important documents
You will need them to make notifications to government and financial entities, and to receive benefits.
If your spouse was working, notify his or her employer and contact the human resources department
Find out if your spouse was owed salary or payments for accrued vacation or sick time. Ask too if there is any final paperwork you need to complete. If your family’s health insurance was through your spouse’s employer, ask if you’re able to continue it and the cost.
If your spouse was retired, notify the Social Security Administration (call 1.800.772.1213)
You’ll want to figure out if you or your children are eligible to receive survivor benefits. Contact to also limit the risk of someone attempting identity theft by stealing the Social Security Number.
If your spouse was a veteran, notify the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
If your partner was receiving VA disability payments call 1-800-827-1000. If s/he was enrolled in a VA life insurance program, call 1.800.669.8477.
Call your life insurance company
Life insurance policies can take weeks to pay out. If your spouse held one with you as the beneficiary, you’ll want to call your insurance company as soon as possible to get the payment in motion. It’s also a good idea to check with former employers regarding any life insurance or benefits, like a pension, that your spouse earned and you may be entitled to. If you aren’t on the account, you’ll also need to provide a copy of the death certificate and proof of executorship.
If needed, you’ll want to change account holder information to ensure you’re listed and can access funds. Close out individual accounts or transfer to you or designated beneficiaries. Also, close credit cards your spouse held individually.
Consider whether or not you need to hire a financial advisor to help make decisions about any assets you’ll receive. Ask yourself, too, if you need a lawyer to help with any questions about your spouse’s will or estate plans.
Within 60 days
A couple of months in, your feelings may still be raw, but there is more to do:
Assess bill paying.
If you split this responsibility, or if your partner did it all, be sure to carefully examine your obligations. Make sure you’re not delinquent on any accounts.
Notify the three major credit reporting firms
Contact Experian, Equifax and TransUnion for two purposes. First, request a copy of your spouse’s credit report to make sure there are no debts you didn’t know about. Second, ask that the credit report for your spouse notes she or he is deceased and credit should not be issued. Each company’s website lists an address.
Assess other insurance policies
Think about other insurance policies your spouse held – for instance, car insurance, homeowner’s policy or accidental death policy. Notify the policies and either cancel or change them to reflect that you are now the insured party.
Update deeds and titles
Speaking of homes and cars – are you listed on deeds and titles along with your spouse? Joint property owned by spouses typically automatically transfers to the survivor. But you may update these forms if you wish by providing a death certificate.
Name a new beneficiary
Most spouses list one another as the primary beneficiary on wills, trusts, insurance policies, etc. If your spouse is your beneficiary, update these to reflect your new beneficiary. If you have children, you can give a portion to each.
Within 90 days
Many people start to feel the beginning of a new normal in this phase, though individual experiences vary. Take some time to reflect on the details you may have forgotten and to plan ahead for your future:
Plan for tax season
Remember you will still need to file taxes including your spouse for the year in which he or she died.
Cancel applicable dues or memberships
Think of organizations, clubs or affinity groups your spouse belonged to, such as a fraternal or Rotary organization. Cancel the dues/memberships. Consider canceling or changing gym memberships that no longer make sense (such as a couples membership).
Get the support you need
Think about yourself and what you will need going forward. Do you need to re-evaluate a spending and savings plan or otherwise come to terms with your new financial picture? Ask yourself again if you need professional advisors in the coming year from a financial planner, lawyer or tax consultant.
Read more here on how to manage finances after the death of a spouse.