Nothing can quite upend your world like the passing of a spouse. It leaves many at a loss for what to do next. If you have lost a spouse, this post is going to be helpful because I’m going to give you a step-by-step plan of what you should be doing in the coming months. It’ll help you feel like you have a little bit more control over the finances. 

If you’ve recently lost your spouse, I’m so, so sorry for your loss. Since people come to me for the financial part of their life, I’ve helped quite a few recent widows and widowers go through this process of getting their financial life organized. And, as a side note, your financial planner should be able to take a lot of the burden off of your shoulders. The financial companies don’t make it easy, but your advisor can help. If you don’t have an advisor or you just don’t feel a hundred percent comfortable reaching out to them, then please reach out to me. We’ve helped a lot of spouses during this difficult time. 

Here are the recommended steps. You don’t have to go exactly in this order, but this is a natural way to get things organized and move forward. 

Check With The Funeral Director

Step one, especially if the loss is very recent, check to make sure that the funeral director has

  • contacted social security, and
  • ordered 10 to 15 death certificates.

You’re going to need these for retitling accounts and talking to some of the financial institutions. 

Email Your Financial Team

Step two, send an email to your financial team letting them know, including your accountant, attorney, and financial advisor. You can tell them that you’re not ready to talk yet, or do anything, but ask them to reach out in a couple of weeks to give you a reminder. As with all parts of life, financial isn’t the most important, but it does affect a lot of things. If you let them know, then it will be on them to reach out to you at a later date. Remember, your financial planner should be able to do a lot of the heavy lifting when you are ready to start moving forward with the financial side of things. 

Keep A Dedicated Financial Notebook

The third thing I recommend is to have a notebook to log all the financial conversations that you’ll have in the coming weeks and months. It’s better than taking notes on random pieces of paper, and then trying to find them later. Also, having a folder or binder to keep the actual paper and the death certificates or statements is a good idea too, just so it’s all in one spot. 

Gather All Documents Into One Place

Step four is to start to gather all the documents into one place. Include recent statements, bills, and all of the things that come in. It’s a good idea to look through the checkbook and the online bank accounts, or bank statements to look for recurring bills. The main purpose is to make sure that those are being paid. And in your notebook, keep a page with the list of monthly or annual payments, to make sure that you know all of the monthly expenses. 

Find A Support Group

By now, as you’re getting the documents collected and organized, hopefully you’re feeling a little bit more in control and organized. So the next thing I’d recommend has nothing to do with finances. If you haven’t already, find a support group of people who have gone through the same thing that you have. This has been very helpful to some of our clients. If you’re looking for recommendations, feel free to reach out to me and I can share what others have done. 

Contact Financial Institutions

Then the next step is to contact the financial institutions. (By the way, this is where your financial advisor should step in and start to do a lot of the work for you.) 

  • First, contact any life insurance companies and notify them of your spouse’s passing. They’ll end up sending you some claim forms and your advisor should be able to fill those out. 
  • Then, contact social security. If you were both collecting social security and your spouse’s was higher, then you might be eligible to collect the higher amount. And also, if you have minor children, you may be eligible for survivor benefits. 
    • This social security income strategy is a big, big part of your future income plan. So I’d recommend really evaluating all the options and talking to your advisor or calling me and talking about it. 
  • Next, start notifying some of the other financial institutions that were under your spouse’s name, but don’t feel pressured to change the names on the accounts too soon, though, especially if they might be receiving money in your spouse’s name, still for a couple of weeks or months.
    • And just a warning here: when you do begin to update the accounts to your name, this can be a very emotionally difficult process. Every financial decision is actually part financial and part emotional. This can be a difficult process for many. 
    • And another warning: be careful of scammers. We’ve heard more than once about shady characters who will contact recent widowers and widows to make fake claims about debt owed. If this happens, don’t feel pressured by it, just tell them, I’m still getting stuff organized and I’ll reach out to you later. And then contact your attorney.

Update Your Financial Plan

Hopefully the things that we’ve gone over here give you an action plan on what to do next. And after that, and when you’re ready, begin the process of updating your own financial plan. This isn’t urgent, and it can be done later, but it is important for your future and the future of your family.

You may have questions about the required minimum distributions, taxes, estate planning. If you’re not familiar with these things, have a more in-depth conversation with your planner, tax person, or attorneys. And when you do talk to them, make sure that you’re aware of how they’re getting paid.

And again, I’ll offer myself up. If you want to have a conversation, I always keep 30 minutes free to talk to people who are going through a loss like this. If you want to talk to me for free and ask questions, I’d be happy to do that. 

Create Your Own Retirement Plan

Then finally, when you’re ready, look at creating your own sustainable spending or retirement plan, look to understand the investment risk that you now have in these multiple accounts and then start planning for your future and the future of your family. 

Again, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me, and I’m so, so sorry for your loss. If you know someone who might find this information helpful, feel free to share it with them.