You face few events in life as emotionally draining as losing your spouse. You are swept up in the whirlwind as you prepare the funeral and make final arrangements to say good-bye. Once you emerge, often overwhelmed and lost, what do you do next to put your financial life in order?
First, try to not make any major decisions during this emotional time. Start with only what needs to be done; let the rest wait. Long-term judgment calls need thoughtful consideration and a clear head.
Some level of organization helps you begin recovering. Get a large file holder with individual slots for each category mentioned below to start sorting any and all paperwork relevant to your spouse.
You will need a certified copy of the death certificate, a copy of his or her birth certificate and your marriage certificate and access to any safe deposit box you or your spouse used.
Also maintain a list with contact information of the professionals your spouse used; attorneys, accountants, financial advisors, insurance agents and the like. Keep written records of any discussions with these people from now on. In an emotional time, you can easily forget key details.
Among your other considerations:
▪ Life insurance. You may want a folder for this paperwork and with luck you'll have a copy of the actual policy. You must make a claim on any policy to collect; contact the insurance agent for help if necessary.
Find out what type of life policy your spouse had – term, whole or variable life, for instance – and if the policies were still in force at the time of death. Also determine the beneficiaries and whether the policy carried additional benefits that you may not spot at first.
You may receive proceeds from a life policy fairly quickly, often in just a few days. Don’t forget that if your spouse was employed, group life or survivor benefits may be available to you from the employer.
▪ Social Security. You or your children may qualify for survivor benefits based on your late spouse’s work record. Contact your local Social Security office to see what you can expect; have on hand your family’s Social Security numbers and any benefits statements.
▪ Finances. Collect statements of all of your late spouse’s financial investments, including bank and brokerage accounts, retirement accounts and any partnership investment information. Keep titles and ownership documentation of all assets.
▪ Wills. You will need a copy of the will and last testament. An attorney can help you through the process of settling the estate.
▪ Online. In your grief, you might overlook this contemporary loose end. If your spouse had an online presence on social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and the like, you may want to close those accounts.
▪ Debts. Collect all credit card statements and bills. Just as before your life’s upheaval, it remains important to pay these on time. Check to see if your spouse carried credit insurance, a type of life policy to pay off some debts after death.
Finally, address your own financial affairs such as retitling assets, changing account beneficiaries and updating estate documents.
This bad time will pass and you will come back. When you do, best to emerge with what are now all your affairs in order.