Estate Planning Articles

Six Financial Matters to Address if You Become Widowed

by Alli Thomas

May 20, 2021

Death is a difficult topic. Yet, when considering your financial plan, it’s a necessary evil.

After your spouse dies (whether it was expected or unexpected), you’ll probably go through a range of emotions. But bills must be paid, and day-to-day living must go on.

Ideally, you’ll have a plan in place ahead of time that covers your basic financial obligations. But if you don’t, here are some of the many things you’ll need to think about as a new widow or widower.


1. Insurance

Perhaps you and your spouse had private life insurance policies. If so, contact your insurance agent to find out what your options are after your spouse passes. Some agents may pressure you to annuitize the death benefit, but that may not be the best choice for you. Upon your initial contact with the agent, request the paperwork you’ll need to complete for the death benefit and ask whether there is any deadline to turn it in.  

If your spouse had life insurance coverage through an employer, reach out to the company’s human resources or benefits department to find out your next steps. 


2. Social Security

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

If your 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 spouse was receiving benefits via direct deposit, transfer the money into a separate bank account and set it aside for when the government comes calling.


3. Pension or retirement accounts

If your spouse had 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 that previously were in your spouse’s name or held jointly by your spouse and you. In most cases, financial institutions will require a copy of your spouse’s death certificate to do this. So, make sure you have plenty of copies on hand. 


 6. Bills, loans, and other obligations

Sit down and make a list of every single bill that 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, such as cable, water, electric, sewer, and trash. Don’t forget about 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.   

It’s especially important to take 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.   

Dealing with these mundane tasks may seem overwhelming or impossible when you’re grieving. If you (or someone close to you) is a new widow or widower and is struggling with 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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Alli Thomas

Alli Thomas has worked in the financial services industry for nearly 20 years, with a focus on retirement-related investing. She began her career as a FINRA-licensed participant-services call-center associate at Vanguard, and then moved to Principal Financial Group, where she worked closely with employers, assisting with retirement plan set-up and design, selecting appropriate plan investment offerings, and maximizing employee participation through targeted education campaigns and enrollment meetings. Alli has also worked as a qualified 401(k) administrator and registered investment advisor for several small investment firms. She now writes about all things investment- and finance-related, leveraging her extensive experience and passion for retirement planning to help investors make well-informed financial decisions.

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