The first year after the loss of a spouse is often the most challenging. Not only are you experiencing severe grief and struggling to cope with the loss of your significant other, but you're also tasked with a number of financial matters that need to be handled straightaway.
To help alleviate stress during this extremely difficult time, consider following a financial planning checklist, which could help you handle these practicalities in an orderly way — so you can focus on your loved ones and practice self-care.
What to Collect
Legal and financial documents: Collect and organize all legal and financial documents, including bills, credit card statements, bank statements, retirement and investment account statements, tax returns, life insurance policy statements, auto titles, wills and living trusts.
You'll also need to collect birth and death certificates, your marriage certificate, documentation for your health insurance plan, auto titles and your and your spouse's Social Security cards.
Ideally, you and your spouse kept all the documents, along with a list of accounts and passwords, in a single place. Otherwise, allow yourself ample time to gather all documents and do some digging.
Copies of the death certificate: Order multiple copies of your spouse's death certificate. You will need to provide the death certificate as proof that your spouse has passed away. The certificate is required when you are handling funeral arrangements, requesting the distribution of funds for beneficiaries, closing accounts and transferring titles.
Credit report: Review your spouse's credit history and make sure there are no lines of credit or existing debts you weren't aware of. Try to pay off any outstanding debts as soon as you can.
Who to Contact
Your spouse's employer: If your spouse was employed at the time of their death, reach out to their employer's human resources department to see what paperwork needs to be completed. You may receive some money from your spouse's unused vacation time, paid time off (PTO) or sick leave. If you and your children were on your spouse's health insurance plan, see what options may exist for continuing coverage.
An attorney: If a will is already in place, meet with an attorney to go over the details of the will and how to execute it. If a will wasn't created, speak with an attorney about how the probate process works.
Social Security Administration: Contact your local Social Security Administration office to notify them of the death of your spouse and ask for more information on receiving spousal benefits.
Creditors and banks: Reach out to your spouse's creditors and banks to remove your spouse's name on any joint accounts, pay existing debts and close your spouse's personal accounts.
Retirement and investment companies: Contact the companies behind your spouse's retirement and investment accounts to start the process of dispensing funds to beneficiaries.
Actions to Take
Transfer titles: If the auto titles or mortgage are in your spouse's name, transfer them over to your name. This also goes for any loans that your spouse either took out or was co-signer on.
Make timely bill payments: To avoid incurring late fees, go over the list of bills that need to be paid as well as the payment due dates. If the bills are under your spouse's name, contact the companies and have them transfer the account to your name.
File taxes on behalf of your spouse: You'll still need to file and pay taxes on your spouse's behalf the year they passed.
What to Review
Review your budget: Your living expenses will change after the loss of a spouse. Your household income could also be affected, depending on your situation. These changes may affect your budget tremendously. Review your budget and adjust areas to fit your new situation.
It's generally a good idea not to make any major decisions right away. As you're faced with an emotionally trying time, your judgment might be clouded. Such decisions might include moving to another state or selling valuable assets such as your home or car. It's probably worth waiting until you're in a more stable frame of mind before making any major life changes.
Review insurance policies: Review your insurance policies to make sure they fit your new situation and needs. In some cases, changes in lifestyle or budget may warrant less coverage. In other cases, you may need a more comprehensive policy.
For life insurance policies, contact your life insurance company to discuss how the proceeds could be paid out to beneficiaries. Consider speaking with a financial representative who could help you review your policy and decide on the right one for your needs.
Following a financial planning checklist after the loss of a spouse could help you handle all the necessary money-related matters while coping with your spouse's death. In time, you'll have your financial matters squared away — and could start moving forward on the path to healing.