Surviving the loss of a spouse is never easy. Many times, widows feel lost as they try to navigate their new normal. Although having a checklist or a guide may not cover all of your unique needs, we hope that these tips will help you to start making forward progress on getting organized, respecting your spouse’s wishes, and setting yourself up for a stable future.
Your first step should be to address whatever wishes your spouse has imparted to you or to your estate planning attorney. A will, for example, may be kept by your attorney. Make sure you contact them right away to understand what they need from you to execute your spouse’s wishes.
Usually, the funeral home will contact the Social Security office to report the death, and will arrange for your spouse’s death certificate to be created. However, if you should lose it or if it gets lost in the shuffle, you can order certified copies of a death certificate from your state health department.
Keeping a record of all open accounts and knowing how to access passwords can help make this process easier. However, whether you have this list or not, it’s important to comb through all financial records to ensure that you are appropriately reassigning ownership or consolidating your spouse’s financial accounts with your own. Accounts you should look for include:
Before moving and closing accounts verify any monthly or periodic deposits and payments that may flow through the accounts. These may have to be moved or cancelled prior to closing accounts.
Building a life with someone often comes with many shared “administrative” responsibilities. These could include financial responsibilities such as bills to pay, or they could include more general responsibilities like who maintains the Costco membership. It’s wise to start by looking at your bank statements - what have you paid for over the last 1-3 years that’s a recurring expense?
This list will be a good indicator of what type of administrative responsibilities will shift to the surviving spouse - whether they used to handle them or not. A few “life admin” items to be on the lookout for include:
According to the Social Security Administration, funeral homes typically report deaths to them directly. However, it doesn’t hurt to confirm. Note that you must call or go to a local Social Security office to report your spouse’s death and apply for survivor benefits - you cannot do so online.
You will want to report your spouse’s death to all three credit bureaus - Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian). This helps to ensure that your spouse’s credit will be frozen, and prevent scammers from applying for credit in your spouse’s name.
In today’s digital world, you want to ensure your spouse’s digital presence is memorialized or shut down after they pass away. It’s common to shut down online accounts (like email). However, there are options to “memorialize” some accounts such as Facebook. This allows for the account to stay up, and prevents scammers from using their account or hacking it in any way. It also helps you to preserve any digital memories saved.
Although this can be easier said than done when you’re in the middle of grief, it’s important to surround yourself with a supportive community while you walk this journey. Family, friends, loved ones, and trusted advisors (financial or otherwise) can all help to guide you through this challenging time.
Wood Smith Advisors, a woman-owned Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), is a fee-only financial services firm that partners with its clients to simplify their financial lives. We focus on women, entrepreneurs, and individuals with complex financial situations, providing objective and competent advice, education and services to help them develop and build their businesses and reach their financial goals. We can be reached by clicking here.
"Finance Made Simple" blog posts are intended for educational purposes and not for specific advice. Each person’s situation is different. Consult your financial advisor for advice relating to topics discussed.