How to Organize Your Finances After a Loss

By on August 21, 2018

The last thing you want to be stressed about is managing your finances after the loss of a loved one.

Losing a spouse or partner is a stressful event. And yet, during this time, you are expected to complete a variety of tasks and make important financial decisions. You may need to make final arrangements, notify various businesses and government agencies, and settle your spouse’s estate and debts while providing for your own financial security. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make dealing with these matters less difficult.

Notify others and get advice

Dealing with both the loss of your spouse (or loved one) and money matters at the same time can be overwhelming, especially if the death was unexpected. But there are resources available to help. First, call on close family members and friends or your local community for their emotional support. Notify your employer and your spouse’s employer. Then contact the professionals – including your funeral director, attorney, insurance agents, financial advisors and accountants – who will help you cope with the paperwork and financial matters. Keep their phone numbers handy.

Get organized and keep your finances current

You will need to gather and organize a number of documents for finalizing your spouse’s financial affairs. First, obtain certified copies of the death certificate. Your family doctor or the medical examiner should provide you with the death certificate within 24 hours of the death. The funeral home should complete the form and file it with the state. You may need several certified copies and photocopies may not be accepted by certain institutions

Then, gather any estate planning documents, such as a wills, trusts, deeds, titles and other relevant documents. Also locate any marriage certificate, birth or adoption certificates of children, and military discharge papers, which you may need to apply for benefits. If you don’t know where these documents are look in a safe-deposit box or ask your attorney for copies they may have filed. And, although it may be difficult under the circumstances, pay your bills and keep your finances current, especially mortgage and insurance payments.

Once you have gather these important documents, organize them in an easily accessible folder so you can keep track of everything.

Settle your spouse’s estate

Settling your spouse’s estate is the duty of the executor, who is named in the will. Spouses generally name each other as executor of the other’s estate. If you are the executor of your spouse’s (loved one’s) estate, an attorney or financial adviser can help you to address your their financial affairs. If that is not the case, contact the executor and assist him or her when you can.

Here are some of the most important tasks to be completed as you settle the estate:

  • Report the death to Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213. If your spouse was receiving benefits via direct deposit, request that the bank return funds received for the month of death and thereafter to Social Security. Do not cash any Social Security checks received by mail. Return all checks to Social Security as soon as possible. Surviving spouses and other family members may be eligible for a $255 lump-sum death benefit and survivor’s benefits. Go to the Social Security Administration for more information.
  • File the will with the appropriate probate court. If real estate was owned out of state, file ancillary probate in that state also. If there is no will, contact the probate court or a probate attorney for instructions and assistance.
  • Update the ownership Titles on jointly held assets, such as bank accounts, automobiles, stocks and bonds, and real estate.
  • Contact all insurance companies to file claims or close accounts. The policies could include individual and group life, mortgage insurance, accidental death and dismemberment insurance, credit card insurance, and annuities. You will also want to update your auto and health insurance plans to reflect the new situation.
  • Arrange to retrieve your loved one’s belongings from his or her workplace. Collect any salary, vacation, or sick pay owed to your spouse, and be sure to ask about continuing health insurance coverage and survivor’s benefits offered by their employer to a spouse or children.
  • Asses the state of their past and present retirement pensions. Contact past employers and contact any IRA custodians or trustees. Review designated beneficiaries and post-death distribution options.
  • Notify credit card companies and cancel all cards unless you are a joint cardholder named on the account and wish to retain the card.
  • A federal estate tax return may need to be filed within nine months of death. State laws vary, but state estate tax and/or inheritance tax returns may also need to be filed, and may have a different filing date. Federal and state income taxes are due for the year of death on the normal filing date, unless an extension is requested. If there are trusts, separate income tax returns may need to be filed.
  • Reevaluate your current family budget, short-term and long-term finance goals, insurance needs, and investment options. Update insurance policies, your will, your own estate and investment plans as needed.

Losing a spouse or loved one is a stressful and troubling time. Don’t let the details of finances and legal requirements add to the pressure and laundry list of necessary tasks. Get help whenever possible and take smart steps to continuing the legacy of your life together.

Take the next step - Let's talk!

Remember to speak with your financial, legal or tax professional for more information about the topics which interest you. Here are a few ways for you to share your ideas, learn more and interact with FinancialSafetyNet members, authors and expert advisors.
Have a question, but don't want to share it with everyone? Contact a financial advisor.
Want to contribute to the conversation publicly? Submit a comment.

Submit A Comment

About Chuck Piecukonis

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.