A Checklist for Surviving Spouses

By Mark Dugan, VP Posada Life Foundation

What would happen if you had to suddenly take over management of your money and finances? Are you prepared? The Posada Life Foundation has put together a helpful document to help you think about the various topics that people often face when surviving a spouse. Often times we do not believe we understand the steps involved, but it is surprising how many people do not pre plan for such an event. Surviving a spouse or loved one is an emotional and stressful time. The more planning you are able to do ahead of time; the less likely you are to forget important steps in the process of rebuilding. The surviving spouse is often best served taking things slowly and carefully. Hopefully the information below may provide some guidance as to what t items to think about.

First Steps

The Immediate

As the shock and emotions settle in, remember, there is not too much you need to do immediately except      …

  • Take some time for yourself, family and loved ones
  • Make funeral arrangements
  • Notify friends and family
  • Call your attorney

Important Tips to Remember

  • Allow people to help you. They want to, and you will need them. Ask them to help, if necessary.
  • Write things down. Your memory might be unreliable for some time.
  • Even if the death was expected, remember the situation will be an emotional time for all involved
  • Many of the next items on this list can be done for you by someone else.
  • Remember there will be many steps to follow, so take things one day at a time
  • Expenses are likely to be 80 percent of what they were before the spouse dies, but a widow’s income may only be two-thirds of what it was prior to the spouse’s death. Pension benefits from the spouses work generally are reduced by 50%, and Social Security benefits may be reduced by a third or more.

What to do before you are alone

Pre planning can make this transition much easier and decrease overall stress levels for all involved. Remember, it is better to have all the information you may need, as much as possible, before you are on your own. So often, one spouse handles the financial affairs and when the time comes for the surviving spouse to settle affairs, confusion and frustration can overwhelm loved ones trying to assist.

Things to do before an event

  1. Talk with your spouse. Make sure you understand where and how documents are stored.
  2. Ask who else knows? Do your children, accountants, attorney, or others know where such information is kept?

Gather Key documents in one location

  • Your marriage license
  • Birth certificate for yourself, Spouse
  • A Will, Trust or other pre arranged disposition of assets
  • Bank records, joint accounts and single
  • All insurance policies, Tax information, Mortgage information
  • Credit information
  • Military or Veterans (VA) records.
  • Other(s)

Not sure where to find documents? Check these locations:

  • Safe deposit box. (Where are the keys?)
    • A bank officer or other official representative may need to be present to take inventory of the box’s contents.
  • Personal files: Many people keep their financial records together in a filing cabinet or near where they pay the bills.
  • Tax returns: Assets may be listed on a recent IRS Form 1040.
  • Personal financial management software: If your spouse used financial management software the program should have a list of accounts. You can also review the transaction
  • Credit reporting agencies: Credit reports will list companies with whom the deceased did business.
  • Mail: Financial institutions will continue to send statements and interest or dividend checks. Watch for correspondence from banks or investment companies.
  • Address Book: Contact any listed financial institution to find out whether they hold assets.

Electronic files and storage

Make sure to have all passwords and account information for all items held in an electronic environment. Often times, one spouse will be proficient with computer use or storage and the other may not. This can lead to great difficulty finding and accessing secure documents. Secure all passwords and access codes to any and all electronic storage devices and locations.

  • E-Mail: Your spouse may have been receiving electronic notifications. Access e-mail accounts for messages from financial companies.
  • Computer Folders: Search computers for folder names that might pertain to the estate will death records etc.
  • On Line/Cloud Storage, Web Sites: Are documents stored online? Possible sites: Estate Map, Everplans, The Torch.

What to do the First Month

  • Get state-certified copies of the death certificate; you will need them, ask for more than you think you may need. As many as 10 or more may be needed depending on individual circumstances
  • Inform Social Security and other life insurance carriers (if relevant) of your spouse’s death and/or any organization distributing defined benefits (such as the VA or an employer offering a pension)
  • Change the registration on any utilities billed in your spouse’s name.
  • Apply for life insurance, VA, Social Security, pensions or other relevant benefits
    • Contact each insurance company for information on claiming benefits.
    • Research Social Security survivor benefits
    • Be ready with the Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and any dependent children.
  • Research your state’s laws for transferring ownership of property, such as real estate.
    • Contact each bank and financial institution for information on transferring
  • Identify your spouse’s debts. These may include a mortgage, credit cards, commercial loans, student loans, and other forms of debt
    • Determine if need to close spouse credit card. Are any bills on Auto pay on those cards?
    • Contact each creditor to determine its policies.
    • Is their Insurance to pay off?
  • Pay essential bills such as your mortgage or rent and insurances, but you may want to consult on deferring any large expenses
  • Start considering monthly income and expense changes and how they will impact you, you living situation and needs.
  • Consult your professional advisors:
    • Attorney
    • Tax
    • Financial

Tax Information

Remember to seek out a qualified tax consultant or attorney for issues involving taxes, death benefit taxes and other tax related issues. It can be very confusing and will take expert assist to help sort out any issues in regard to federal and state tax guidelines.

Items often overlooked

  • If applicable, locate your spouse’s cell phone. You may want to preserve his/her voicemail message in another form, as it may be deleted accidentally if the phone malfunctions or the service contract is ended.
  • Keep an open file within easy reach for your health insurance, in case there are expenses associated with your loved one that are yet to be paid.
  • Cancel any recurring membership fees or annual magazine subscriptions that apply only to your spouse, and adjust any that applied to you both.
  • Review social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter. Did your spouse have an individual account? You may wish to keep or delete based on individual circumstance
  • Was your spouse your emergency contact? Make changes to emergency contacts as necessary.
  • If there are automatic deductions being taken out of a checking or savings account, you need to know about Did your spouse use online banking (passwords!) or only paper checks?

Remember: Moving forward, you don’t have to do it the way your spouse did. You can make a system that best fits your needs and abilities. There is no correct way managing, as long as it meets all of your financial and estate planning needs and you are able to handle whatever process you decide to put into place.

For more information, Contact Mark Dugan, Vice President Posada Life Foundation

520-648-7910, email: Mark@laposadagv.com


Information contained in this document was prepared and / or used with authors permission by The Inspired Living Institute by Posada Life. All copy write and protected content is reprinted with permission and intended for general educational purposes only. Content is not intended to diagnosis or treat any specific condition.