What to Do When a Spouse Dies: Handling Your Grief and Your Finances

When your spouse or significant other dies, you’re met with a flood of emotions. Even if it was a long journey and you felt ready for it emotionally, other aspects could cause you fear, frustration, confusion, and even leave you feeling overwhelmed. So, what should you do when a spouse dies?

The first thing you need to do is find a support system – whether this is your friends, family, or a church group. Dealing with grief isn’t something you can or should deal with alone. Grief is different for every person, and it can take months or even years to process your feelings fully. And while it might seem challenging to move on with your life, it’s essential to deal with the financial and security aspects of your spouse’s death as soon as possible. The grief and emotional toll of your spouse’s death will be a much longer and highly personal process.

Death of a Spouse Checklist: Important Tasks to Handle As Soon As Possible 

Those first few weeks after your spouse dies, you might feel like you’re living in a fog. Processing what happened and trying to make sense of this new world you’re living in can take time. Focusing on concrete tasks surrounding your financial and living situation might help you to feel some sense of responsibility that helps move you forward. 

Below is a list of things you must do when your spouse dies: 

1. Contact the funeral home to make arrangements

If you and your spouse have already paid and planned for your funeral arrangements, this should be an easy first step. Ask the funeral director to help you obtain extra copies of the death certificate. 

2. Call your attorney

By contacting your attorney, you can start handling all the legal aspects of a spouse’s death as quickly as possible. 

3. Contact social security

After a spouse’s passing, it can be common for your social security benefits to change. You’ll need to notify them soon after your loved one’s death. 

4. Update your health insurance

As an older adult, being on a fixed income is common. You can adjust your payments by removing your loved one from your health insurance policy. 

5. Contact your spouse’s pension company

If applicable, you may be eligible to receive benefit payments based on your spouse’s pension plan. 

6. File a claim with your life insurance company

Getting life insurance policy payouts quickly can help you cover any costs associated with your spouse’s passing. This money could be used for funeral costs, attorney fees, or medical bills. 

7. Update all joint properties

You may need to change bank account names, update names on your credit cards, or change your mortgage, car payments, or insurance policies to your name exclusively. 

8. Update your will

If you and your spouse had a will, you must update it to reflect your new lifestyle. You’ll need to update your advance care planning.

Why Making Life Decisions Should Wait Until You’re Ready

Aside from notifying all insurance companies, employers, social security, and other institutions about your spouse’s death, you’ll want to avoid making any significant life decisions. It’s easy to let grief make you want to sell your house or change up your finances, but it’s important to wait until your head is clear. While there are certain things you have to do when your spouse dies, everything else should wait until you have had time to process your feelings. 

In the meantime, the best thing to do is get your finances in order, focus on your physical health, and find a positive outlet to channel your grief. Life will feel like it has changed overnight, so focusing on the things you can control will help you stay grounded.

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