What To Do When A Spouse Dies: How To Get A Handle On Your Finances

by Susan

death and dying, debt relief, health insurance, life insurance, loans, Spousal issues, Taxes 101

desk-and-plant-by-mconnors.JPG The death of a spouse is a traumatic experience that can set your head spinning and your heart reeling.  Few people are ever ready for this tragic event emotionally or even financially.

Unfortunately, adding to the inner turmoil that you are probably experiencing, are the financial matters that must be dealt with immediately. 

Knowing what needs to be taken care of can be a tremendous help at this point, alleviating some of the stress and tension that is certainly swirling around you.


Where To Start

Whether you and your spouse dealt with your bookkeeping on the computer or the old fashioned way with paper and pencil, hopefully, you are aware of the location of every important piece of paperwork that needs to be dealt with at this unfortunate time.  Some matters will be more pressing than others and that is the order in which they should be handled.

If you and your spouse have stored important documents together, then you already know where everything is located.  Simply collect the items to a central location such as your desk or the dining room table.  If you have no clue where everything or some things are kept, start looking for them now and gather as many of the financial documents as you possibly can. 

If you are too emotionally distraught at this time, consider asking a close relative or friend to assist you.  Worse case scenario, hire a lawyer of financial advisor to get you through this process of dealing with the financial end of becoming a widow or widower.

The Most Urgent Priorities

Once you have all or most of the documents together, go through them and sort them into piles according to urgency.  Knowing what obligations and assets you have will guide the process of sorting out the financial end of things.

List of important documents to review:

  •     Life insurance policy

  •     Will

  •     Birth certificate

  •     Death certificate (when available)

  •     Prearranged funeral arrangement papers

  •     Social security card

  •     Retirement plan documentation

  •     Deeds

  •     Car insurance policy

  •     Homeowner’s insurance policy

  •     Loan documents

  •     Mortgage documents

  •     Leasing documents

  •     Tax returns

  •     Stock certificates

  •     Bank statements

  •     Brokerage statements

  •     Partnership agreements

  •     Divorce agreements

  •     Safe deposit box key and information

  •     Current billing statements

Meeting Due Dates & Paying Off Debts

Use your cash assets to pay any pressing bills to avoid late fees and additional interest charges.  If there isn’t enough money available to pay off all of the debt with immediate due dates, contact the creditors and ask for a temporary delay or postponement.  Most creditors are understanding and will work with you to come with an arrangement that is acceptable to both of you.

Bills that carry the most importance and that should be paid first include the mortgage, home equity loans, health insurance premiums, homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, and life insurance.  Next in line are the utility bills. 

Your Insurance Priorities

If a life insurance policy was in effect, it may take several weeks to get the money.  Try to arrange with your creditors and bank to ensure that you have enough working capital until you receive the money.  Many of the larger issues such as stocks, brokerage statements, and partnership agreements can wait a few weeks until things settle down a bit.

If children are involved, you may want to consider acquiring disability insurance or increasing the amount on your insurance policy.  In fact, you need to check to see if your spouse’s place of employment carried a life insurance or death benefit policy on your spouse. 

Change the beneficiary on your will, life insurance policy, and bank accounts.  Inform creditors to change the names on accounts or close them out once they are paid in full and open new ones.  It is best to try and retain the same account with just the name change in order to retain the credit history that is attached to the account, particularly if it is good.  Change the name on other important documents such as the deed, titles held on vehicles, and any other joint titles that you held.

A New Beginning

Finally, once you have sorted through all the necessary changes that you need to make on your documents, begin to reassess your situation.  Revisit your debt to income ratio.  Work out a new budget — one that incorporates the new level of income.  Make any necessary cutbacks to keep your household financially viable.  Then, relax and try to get back into the swing of things.