Estate Planning Articles

Retirement Benefits for Surviving Spouse

by Retirement Tips

Jul 7, 2023

Six Financial Matters to Address if You Become Widowed

Navigating Financial Matters: Guidance for Recent Widow(er)

Key Takeaways:
  • After the passing of a spouse, it is important to address financial matters such as insurance and retirement benefits, paying bills, and managing other responsibilities.
  • Bills, loans, and obligations must be listed, and institutions associated with each must be contacted for payment and account management as soon as possible.
  • A comprehensive financial security review and analysis will help provide peace of mind.

Discussing death is an undoubtedly challenging topic. However, addressing your financial plan becomes imperative. Dealing with the passing of a spouse, regardless of whether it was anticipated or unexpected, often triggers a whirlwind of emotions. Amidst this challenging time, the practicalities of life, such as paying bills and managing day-to-day responsibilities, demand attention moving forward.

Ideally, having a well-thought-out plan in place ahead of time that encompasses your basic financial obligations can provide some peace of mind. If preparations were not made, it is vital to be aware of the many aspects that must be considered as a new widow or widower.

This article will explore the factors that require careful thought and planning during this transitional phase. We will provide guidance and support to help you navigate the financial landscape with confidence and resilience.

1. Insurance

reviewing insurance plan, surviving spouse, own retirement benefit

Begin to look at the available options within your life insurance policies. Contacting your insurance agent for guidance is recommended if you and your former spouse have private life insurance policies. When contacting your agent, request the necessary paperwork for processing the death benefit and inquire about any potential deadlines for submission. It’s worth noting that agents may suggest annuitizing the death benefit, but it’s critical to carefully evaluate if this is the best choice for your situation.

If your former spouse had life insurance coverage through their employer, it is advisable to contact the company’s human resources or benefits department. They can guide the following steps and offer insights into the procedures involved.

2. Social Security Benefits

If you were older than 60 when your spouse passed away, you may receive survivor and death benefits from Social Security. The death benefit is a one-time payment.

If your former spouse received monthly benefits from Social Security, do not cash payments received after their death. In many cases, the Social Security Administration will want that money back. You may either hold the checks without cashing them or, if your former spouse receives benefits via direct deposit, transfer the money into a separate bank account and set it aside when the government calls.

Survivor Benefits

Social Security survivor’s benefits are a support system provided to widows, widowers, and dependents of eligible workers. This benefit holds particular significance for young families with children. It is important to note that if you work and contribute to Social Security, your taxes go towards funding survivors’ benefits.

In the unfortunate event of your death, your spouse, children, and parents may be eligible for benefits based on your earnings. To qualify for these benefits, the deceased individual must have worked for a sufficient duration.

Monthly benefits may be available to certain family members, including:

  • Surviving spouse aged 60 or older (or 50 or older if they have a disability).
  • Surviving a divorced spouse under specific circumstances.
  • Surviving spouse of any age who is caring for the deceased’s child under age 16 or with a disability, and the child is receiving benefits.
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who falls into one of the following categories:
  • Younger than 18 years old (or up to 19 if they are a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school).
  • Age 18 or older with a disability that started before age 22.

3. Pension or Retirement Accounts

couple discussing retirement accounts, surviving spouse, survivor benefit

If your spouse has a pension or an employer-sponsored retirement plan, contact the company’s human resources department to find out what you need to do to get those assets.

If your spouse’s retirement savings were in a personal retirement account, such as a traditional or Roth IRA, contact the custodian of the account—usually a major financial company or bank—to get instructions.

4. Wills

If you are the executor of your deceased spouse’s will, it must go through the probate process. Fair warning: This can be a lengthy and expensive experience. To get the ball rolling, contact your county courthouse. 

5. Bank accounts, Mortgages, and Other Accounts

You’ll need to retitle any accounts previously in your spouse’s name or jointly held by your spouse and you. Financial institutions usually require a copy of your spouse’s death certificate. So, make sure you have plenty of copies on hand.

 6. Bills, loans, and other obligations

Shot of a mature woman going through paperwork at home

List every bill you, your spouse, and the two of you have been responsible for paying. Your list may include some or all of the following:

  • Mortgage
  • Car loan
  • Home equity loan or home equity line of credit
  • Credit cards
  • Homeowner’s Insurance
  • Life insurance premiums
  • Utility bills include cable, water, electricity, sewer, and trash. Remember video streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
  • Homeowner’s Association
  • Accounts for health and leisure activities, such as a gym membership

Next, reach out to the institutions associated with each of these bills to find out how payments are made, whose name is on the account, and (in some cases) how to cancel the service.

Taking these steps within one or two billing cycles following your spouse’s death. Otherwise, your credit score could take a hit. While you may not even be thinking about this in the days or weeks following the death of your spouse, there are long-term negative consequences if you don’t act promptly.

Significant Irreversible Financial Choices

Do not rush into any large and significant financial decisions. The impact of such decisions can be amplified when made in haste, leading to potential complications. It is important to wait until your cognitive functions return to normal before tackling meaningful financial matters.

Instead, concentrate on financial triage activities that require immediate attention listed above. If you receive a life insurance death benefit check, consider depositing it into a secure money market account and take the time to carefully contemplate how to utilize it before making any investments, expenditures, or donations. You can make more informed and sound financial choices by giving yourself space to reflect.


Be cautious when dealing with individuals who may take advantage of vulnerable widows. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous financial salespeople target individuals who have recently lost their spouses. These predatory individuals seek to exploit their emotional vulnerability and lack of financial knowledge for their gain.

Widow(ers) should know these predators’ common tactics, such as offering high-risk investments promising unrealistic returns or pressuring them into making quick and uninformed financial decisions. Widow(ers) need to seek trusted advice from reputable financial advisors or professionals who have their best interests at heart. You can find trustworthy financial advisors here.

An Objective Review of Financial Security

Family and friends may offer advice without having a complete understanding of your entire situation. It can be helpful to respond with gratitude while clarifying that it is too early for you to make long-term decisions about your future. Instead, consider seeking unbiased guidance from a knowledgeable individual who can assess your financial position objectively and provide comprehensive suggestions. Reviewing your investments and determining if any adjustments are necessary is wise as you think more clearly. What may have been suitable for you and your spouse may not be appropriate under new circumstances.

New widows often experience concerns about their financial security, even if they have substantial assets. It is common to question whether they will have enough money to sustain themselves. Gaining a realistic understanding of your financial net worth and examining your cash inflows and outflows can help alleviate these worries.

Speaking with a qualified financial advisor who specializes in working with widows can be beneficial. Such an advisor can serve as a “thinking partner,” listening to your concerns with empathy and respect while helping you make informed decisions. Selecting an advisor with experience working with widows with a recognized professional designation, such as a certified financial planner (CFP) status, is important.

Look for an advisor who prioritizes your interests and provides unbiased and holistic advice. Many experts recommend working with fee-compensated advisors to ensure transparency and alignment of incentives.

Have Questions about Retirement Benefits for a Surviving Suppose?

Dealing with these mundane tasks may seem overwhelming or impossible when grieving.  If you (or someone close to you) are a new widow or widower has questions about their financial next steps, let us help.  Click here to set up a free, no-obligation meeting with one of our financial advisors.


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Retirement Tips

Retirement Tips is an educational blog dedicated to helping workers and retirees become more knowledgeable about retirement and financial planning.

We want to help readers learn more about their retirement investing options, programs like Medicare and Social Security, and difficult-but-important topics like long-term care and estate planning.

Our goal is to help you make more informed decisions when it comes to your retirement and to make it easier for you to connect with an advisor in your area should you need professional financial advice.

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