A Financial Checklist After the Death of Your Spouse

Man walking dog
Losing a spouse can be one of the most devastating events in your life, and working through your grief will take some time. If you have young children, this time can be even more challenging since they are mourning the loss of a parent.

On top of processing your grief, there's also the looming administrative task of going through what needs to be done after a spouse dies to protect the estate and move forward appropriately. We recommend making a list or creating a binder of what needs to be taken care of. Then, try to tackle one or two tasks each day so you're not overwhelmed. 

Be patient with yourself. When you're ready to begin moving forward, reference our death of a spouse checklist. Some items can wait, while others should be handled as soon as possible.

1. Organize your spouse's paperwork

The first thing to consider on any checklist after the death of a spouse is the paperwork they had regarding their bank accounts, will, insurance, and investments. Here's where a three-ring binder with multiple pockets—or a well-organized folder on your computer—may be most useful. Collect and organize all paperwork you can to easily access it in the weeks ahead.

2. Get copies of the death certificate

One of the crucial things to do when a spouse dies is to collect at least 15 copies of the death certificate. The funeral home prepares the death certificate, so ask them about the process for obtaining certified copies. 

Certified death certificates feature an official stamp and are required for many of the tasks on this list. If you're unable to get them from the funeral home, your county or state vital records office should have them, though there may be a cost involved.

How Ethos works
Our mission is to protect the next million families and we intend to do just that with an honest and transparent process. Take a look at how it works.

3. Locate the will

One of the first things to do when a spouse dies is to locate their will. It may be in your home, a safety deposit box, or your lawyer's possession. When you've found it, contact a lawyer to determine if it needs to go through probate and how you should handle the dispersal of money and items mentioned. If your spouse left no will, you'll need to work with a lawyer to be sure you're adhering to state laws regarding those who die intestate.

4. Contact employers

If your spouse was still working, contact their employer to determine any death benefits for the spouse. For example, there may be a life insurance policy as a work benefit. Talk to a human resource staff person who can answer questions about health insurance, including whether and for how long you can continue coverage. It's also worth contacting past employers to see if residual benefits, such as a pension or 401(k), can be accessed. 

5. Contact government agencies

When your spouse dies do you get their social security? Report the death of a spouse to the Social Security Administration, either by phone, at (800) 772-1213, or via a visit to your local SS office. You may be eligible for social security when your spouse dies, and this should be one of your first steps to avoid delays. 

If your spouse served in the military, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs, which also may have benefits available for you.

6. Change names on financial accounts

This step may take some time, but it's an essential step on your list of what to do when a spouse dies. Is it necessary to remove a deceased spouse from a bank account? Yes, it is. Joint bank or investment accounts should be revised to list only your name, and the same is true of credit card accounts and long-term debt, such as mortgages or car loans. Review the bills that your spouse was paying at this time and see if there are any you can eliminate — such as a cell phone account or car insurance if you decide to sell their car.

7. Let credit bureaus know about the death of a spouse

There are three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. When a spouse dies, the surviving partner should send a letter to each of these three bureaus indicating that the person is deceased, and no new credit should be issued under their name. 

8. If you have a child in college, let financial aid know

One of the other important things to do when a spouse dies involves any children you and your spouse have attending college. Financial aid packages are often based on the parents' income, so with the death of a spouse, your changing income may make your child eligible for more tuition assistance.

9. Contact insurance companies

You'll need to contact homeowners (or renters) and car insurance companies to have your policies placed solely in your name. You'll also need to connect with the health insurance company at your spouse's employment (if applicable) or with whatever insurer carries the spouse's policy to cancel it. Lastly, contact life insurance companies to determine if there's a policy with death benefits for the spouse.

If you're still wondering how to protect your loved ones with life insurance, look no further than Ethos Life. We offer low-cost, no-medical-exam policies for both young families and older individuals—you only need to answer a few online health questions. 

Find out more about how Ethos works and consider purchasing life insurance online now while you and your partner are still in good health.

The information and content provided herein is for informational purposes only, and it is not to be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. You should consult with an attorney or other professional to determine what may be best for your individual needs.