Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse

Courtesy of US News and World Report | Written by Rodney Brooks | Photo by Getty Images | Originally Posted 08.28.2020 | Published 09.18.2020

AFTER A LOVED ONE DIES, their affairs need to be set in order. You might find yourself planning a funeral, paying bills and closing accounts. The list of things you need to do after someone dies can seem endless, especially during a time when you are also grieving.

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Here’s what to do when a spouse dies:

  • Get organized.
  • Take inventory.
  • Identify the executor.
  • Get a death certificate.
  • Contact your professional advisors.
  • Take a step back.
  • Don’t make major decisions for a year.
  • Make sure your spouse’s last wishes are carried out.

Get Organized

Start by making of list of everything you need to do, so you can check off the things you have accomplished and make a note of what still needs to be done.”We start tackling tasks and then we forget who we talked to and where we put things,” says Dana Anspach, a certified financial planner and CEO of Sensible Money in Scottsdale, Arizona. “The answer could be a binder. It might mean enlisting the help of a family member to log emails and phone calls and make a checklist. Taking the time to get organized is really important.”[ 

READ: 5 Estate Planning Strategies to Keep Your Money in the Family. ]

Take Inventory

You will need to look at your spouse’s will and estate plan. “Gather the documents you will need,” Anspach says. “If your spouse handled all finances it will be overwhelming figuring out which bills they pay from which accounts. If it is all online, that can make it more challenging to track things down, figure out passwords and find out how to access those accounts.” A tax return can be a good way to locate various types of financial assets.

Identify the Executor

The executor is the person who will carry out the terms of the will. “That person is responsible for all the housekeeping essentials of organizing someone’s estate,” says Mark Brown, managing partner at Brown & Company in Denver, Colorado.

Get a Death Certificate

Make sure to request multiple copies of the death certificate. “One thing you have to have, universally, is a death certificate,” Brown says. “Get 10 or 15 copies. Every entity will need that.”[ 

READ: How to Claim Social Security Survivor Benefits. ]

Contact Your Professional Advisors

You will need to inform various professionals that your spouse has passed away. “Notify the different professionals in your life, your CPA, attorney, financial advisor and maybe your banker, if you have one,” Brown says. “Those three or four contacts will probably know 90% of what’s going on.” You will also need to report the death to the Social Security Administration.

Take a Step Back

Take the time to process your emotions and grieve with other family members. “Make sure the loved ones remaining are OK,” says David Curry, principal and co-founder of East Paces Group in Atlanta, who recently lost his mother. “The family dynamics, when you go through that, they totally change. That emotional baggage is kind of tough.”[ 

READ: How to Pick a Beneficiary for Your 401(k) Plan. ]

Avoid Making Any Major Decisions

Anspachadvises clientsnot to make any major financial decisions for a year, like selling a house or making a lump sum investment.”You are emotional and looking for advice. It’s easy to get pressured into making a decision that might not be right for you,” Anspach says. “Give yourself permission to be emotional and not make any decision because you recognize you are grieving and your head isn’t clear.”

Make Sure Your Spouse’s Wishes Are Carried Out

The best way to honor your spouse is to make sure their desired requests are carried out. “You are the only person who can do that,” Curry says. “They expect you to take care of their last wishes the way they wanted.”

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