After the loss of a spouse, especially when it comes unexpectedly, it can be overwhelming to have to deal with so many financial and lifestyle decisions. Many women find themselves in a situation that they may not be familiar with—as many times, their husband has been the primary party dealing with the finances.
This may be the first time you are making these types of decisions on your own. It’s challenging to know which choices to make, when to make them, and sometimes, whether or not to make any choices at all.
But before it overwhelms you, remember: not everything has to be done immediately. Knowing which items to prioritize can help get you through this process, and hopefully, ease the stress of it all. We understand and can assist you with:
- Gathering and completing death claim and change of ownership forms
- Determining the value and location of all your assets and accounts
- Updating Beneficiaries
- Ensure you have the income you need to maintain your desired lifestyle
- Updating your estate and wealth transfer plans
- Communicating with your attorney and other family members
Obtain a Certified Death Certificate
The first thing that you will need to do is get copies of the certified death certificate. Many of the agencies that you will need to deal with will ask for a copy of the death certificate. This can be obtained through your county health department, or even the funeral director may be able to help you with this.
In addition to the death certificate, you will need to gather several other documents in order to obtain survivor benefits:
- Social Security numbers—for you, your spouse, and your children
- Military discharge papers, if applicable
- Marriage certificate
- Children’s birth certificates, for minor children
- Your spouse’s will
- List of your spouse’s personal assets
- Real estate (titles/deeds)
- Stocks, bonds, savings accounts
- Other personal property
File Insurance Claim
Contact your insurance agent to file a claim so that you can resolve how your husband’s life insurance policy will be paid out. This is important to do early on so that the funds can be disbursed and you will have access to continue paying your financial obligations. Losing your spouse can be emotionally draining as well as financially draining, especially if he was the current primary wage earner. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you aren’t paying your bills on time, as that could affect your credit negatively.
Find out what benefits you are eligible to receive
If your spouse was working at the time of death, contact your spouse’s employer. Depending on what the company offers, there may be life, health, or accident insurance, of which you may be entitled to a benefit. There may also be an outstanding paycheck, unused vacation time, or sick pay that you can collect at this time as well. If the death was work-related, you may be entitled to an accidental death benefit, as well as worker’s compensation benefit.
Determine what your options are to claim and/or potentially rollover and retirement accounts your spouse may have had. This includes, but is not limited to, employer sponsored plans such as Defined Benefit pension plans, 401(k), and profit sharing plans, and any individual retirement accounts your spouse may have had. Your options for each may be different, and you will want to discuss the best course of action with a Financial Advisor to be sure you make the best claiming strategy choices to avoid unnecessary taxes and to help ensure your own secure retirement. Simply rolling over all your eligible spouses retirement plans into your own name is not always the best strategy. Do your homework before claiming any benefits or rolling over any funds.
Social Security Benefits
If your spouse paid into social security for at least 40 quarter, you may be eligible for Social Security benefits. Find out if you qualify for a one-time death benefit (which can be used toward burial expenses) or a survivor’s benefit for yourself and/or your children. Contact the Social Security administration online at www.ssa.gov, call toll free 1-800-722-1213, email SSA, or find your local office.
Did your spouse serve in the military or as a government employee? If so, you may qualify for a separate survivor’s benefit, educational assistance, home loans, federal job preference, or other assistance. To find out if you qualify for any of these benefits, contact the Department of Veteran’s Affairs or Federal Employees Retirement System.
Depending on the type of Will or Trust that your spouse had, his assets may go through probate. As this process occurs and as you obtain your insurance or other benefits, you will be able to pay off your spouse’s debts. During this time, you will also want to take steps to avoid any sort of identity theft. Close any accounts that were solely in his name, notify banks and creditors to have your spouse’s name removed from joint accounts, transfer automobiles into your name, and review with your financial advisor or attorney if it is necessary to transfer any real estate solely into your name.
Catherine Gareri, a Senior Associate with Finivi, works primarily with women going through a period of transition in their lives, or who are facing a new life challenge that may require difficult financial and emotional decisions to be made or at least considered, including caring for a loved one. If you need guidance navigating through a difficult life transition, we can help. You can call (800)530-6635 for a complimentary consultation or click here to schedule online.
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