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What to Do if Your Spouse Passes Away

Posted by Doreen Dann, RN, BSN, MHA, May 3, 2017

Years ago, the two of you exchanged the vows, “til death do us part”. You probably avoided thinking about those words too literally, and focused on the romance and excitement of your wedding day. Unfortunately, that day does eventually arrive, While there isn’t a way to avoid the emotions you will feel at that time, it is possible to avoid (or at least minimize) some of the legal and financial hurdles you will face. In the weeks following the loss of your spouse, this checklist can help you proceed through some of the practical matters.

Request help. It’s not only okay to ask for help at this time; it’s the best thing you can do for yourself. A close friend or relative will be eager to help you with the items on this list, so make this request before doing anything else.

Get organized. In order to complete many of the items on this list, you will need copies of birth certificates, the death certificate, Social Security numbers, life insurance policies, financial account statements, deeds to property, and so on. Gather all of these items in one convenient place. Request 12 copies of the death certificate, because you will need this item over and over in the coming weeks or months.

Stay on top of the bills. It’s easy to forget basic things like the electric bill, when you’re grieving and dealing with other important matters. Your organizational period should extend to your basic accounting system as well. If your spouse handled the bills, ask someone to help you set up a system that works for you.

Contact your life insurance representative. Since it can take several weeks to process your spouse’s life insurance payout, get started on this item right away.

Arrange for a house sitter. It’s awful to imagine, but there are crooks who read the obituary section of newspapers and burglarize homes when they’re sure to be empty (during the funeral). Arrange for a house sitter during both the wake and funeral services.

Call your spouse’s employer. You might need to complete some paperwork relating to unpaid benefits or their retirement account. This is true even if your spouse was already retired.

Notify your attorney. Your estate planning attorney can guide you through the legal issues you will now confront.

Call Social Security. A representative can explain things like spousal and survivor’s benefits.

Call the Veteran’s Administration. If your spouse was a veteran, you might be due certain benefits.

Change your beneficiary designations. If you selected your spouse as your beneficiary on life insurance policies or retirement accounts, you will need to select another beneficiary at this time.

Contact creditors. Remove your spouse’s name from joint accounts, and close any accounts that were in their name only. You don’t want con artists to get ahold of this information, and rack up charges in your spouse’s name.

File taxes correctly. During the spring following your spouse’s death, you will need to file their taxes one last time. They can be included on your joint return, if that’s how you file.

Contact your life insurance company. Payouts of death benefits usually take several weeks to process.

Give us a call. A major change in your life often precipitates the need to change other things, like your insurance options. Notify us, and we can help you make the necessary decisions going forward.

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