Losing your spouse is painful, stressful and extremely emotional time that no one wants to go through. There are so many things to think about and issues to be managed all while dealing with your grief. The most important thing to know is that it’s okay to reach out to your loved ones to help you. You don’t have to handle everything alone.
Once you have your support system in place, you can start dealing with one of the most important issues: finances.
The Basic Overview
What do you own and what do you owe? The simplest way to get a general idea is to make a list of all of your assets. This includes your house, bank accounts, investments, stocks, and retirement savings. Then, list all of your debts. This list will include any credit card debt, loans and mortgage. Subtract your debts from assets and this gives you a general overview of where you stand financially.
If your spouse was the one in charge of handling the finances, it can be difficult to get your financial ducks in a row. It’s good to start with just basic organizing. To avoid missing bill payments, set up online bill paying for recurring bills. Organize and file all financial statements including banking, brokerage, credit cards, insurance policies and receipts. If you know where they are, it makes it easy to find and reference in the future.
Notify Financial Institutions, Government Agencies
Contact the following places to let them know of your spouse’s death.
- Social Security Administration
- Your spouse’s employer
- Credit bureaus
- Post office
Notifying Social Security allows you to receive any survivor benefits if you are eligible. It also prevents fraudulent activity with your spouse’s social security number.
Alerting creditors and credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) will prevent identity theft of your loved one. You can request the account be flagged and that no credit be issued.
Update Information on Personal Accounts
Any accounts you have that may also include your spouse need to be notified and changed to your name only. This can include credit cards, bank accounts, loans, and insurance policies. However, it’s important to also note that while it is necessary to remove the deceased spouse’s name from bank accounts eventually, you don’t want to do this right away. Small checks sometimes arrive up to a year after death with the deceased spouse’s name on it and you may have some trouble depositing these checks if their name is no longer on the account, and once the name is removed from the account it cannot be put back on. The alternate way would be to mail these checks back to the sender with a copy of the death certificate and a copy of a document that states the administrator of the estate so this check can be rewritten. This can be very a frustrating and time-consuming task for these small checks.
While updating accounts, it is a good time to update any beneficiary designations that you have on insurance policies and retirement accounts. Now is a good time to update titles of property that you and your spouse own. You may have to transfer ownership if you are not on the documents.
Handling all these details after such a loss can be very overwhelming. Take your time, turn to your friends and family for help and consult with a professional, such as an estate planning attorney, when you need to. Don’t rush into any large financial decisions right away. Take everything one step at a time.