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After Loss: Steps to Take After the Death of Your Spouse

By Marjorie L. Rand, CPA, CFP®, RICP® 

A spouse’s death can turn your world upside down. In the midst of such a difficult time, there are many tasks that often fall on the surviving partner, adding to the already overwhelming grief. At Rand Financial Planning, I recognize the challenges you face during this difficult time and am here to support you. For many years, I have been working with surviving spouses to manage the settlement of their spouse’s estate and help them move forward on their own. I feel honored to be a support system my clients rely on to navigate such a trying time.

The following is a list of essential tasks to guide you through the days, weeks, and months following the loss of your spouse.

Immediately After

  • Get a legal pronouncement of death from medical staff. This is required in order to get a death certificate.
  • Contact a funeral home. Whether your spouse died at home or in a medical facility, it is necessary to contact a funeral home right away to begin making arrangements.

Within a Few Days

  • Inform your family members and friends about your spouse’s death. Ask someone you speak with to let others know about the death so you don’t have to do everything yourself. 
  • Start making final arrangements. Since you’ve already contacted the facility you’ll be working with, you can start to make final arrangements. If you don’t know what your loved one’s final wishes were, review their end-of-life documents.
  • If your spouse was employed, contact their employer and notify them about the death. The employer should give you details about the financial benefits you’ll receive. 
  • Call your own employer to let them know about your partner’s death. Your employer should allow you time to grieve and make final arrangements.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration (SSA). Once the SSA is notified of your spouse’s death, any government benefits your spouse received will end. 
  • If your spouse was an active or retired military member, inform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) about your spouse’s death. 
  • If you have school-aged children, contact their school. They’ll postpone or cancel student assignments and arrange grief-counseling services.
  • Call life insurance providers. Legally, life insurance companies have to wait 14-60 days before submitting a payout. It’s wise to start the claim process as soon as possible.
  • Write an obituary. Work with close family members to help you.

Within 10 Days

  • Locate the will. The executor of the will disburses your spouse’s assets according to their wishes set forth in the will. For married couples, most assets and debt are jointly owned. So when one partner dies, the survivor acquires everything they owned together (including debts). If you can’t find the will at home, see if it’s in a bank safe deposit box, or ask the lawyer for a copy.
  • Locate a competent estate attorney who handles probate matters, especially if there is a disclaimer provision in the will. It’s important to not move any estate assets without first consulting with your attorney. 
  • Get at least 10 copies of the death certificate so you can notify multiple parties of your partner’s passing. 

In the Months After

There are some things that don’t need attention right away after a spouse’s death, and sometimes it’s actually better to hold off. For example, I don’t recommend canceling your loved one’s email account right away because you’ll need it to request and receive benefits.

A checklist of things you don’t need to do immediately:

  • Cancel insurance policies exclusively in your spouse’s name, and remove them from joint policies. 
  • Remove your spouse’s name from property deeds. 
  • Contact your local election office to let them know about the death.
  • Contact the DMV to cancel the driver’s license and to change title and registration if the car was in your spouse’s name.
  • Cancel credit cards in your spouse’s name
  • Contact all three major credit bureaus so they can ensure no new credit is taken out in your spouse’s name.
  • Contact banks and financial institutions.
  • Create a plan for taking care of the bills and be sure all accounts are in your name.
  • Update your own will to include the assets you recently acquired.
  • Create an updated financial plan.
  • Update beneficiaries on your accounts.
  • Work with a financial professional to help you navigate possible tax issues and to file tax returns.
  • Shut down their social media accounts.
  • Cancel unneeded subscriptions.
  • Close their email accounts.

A Partner to Support You

Losing a spouse is undeniably one of life’s toughest challenges. If you’re struggling and unsure how to navigate your financial responsibilities, I’m here to support you. As a CPA with a strong background in estate and income taxation, I can provide insight and make recommendations that help reduce the financial burden of unnecessary tax bills that often occur after the loss of a spouse. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and fiduciary, I don’t take custody of my clients assets or sell any products. I am simply here to provide honest, unbiased advice to help you financially transition during this difficult time so you can focus on the more important things in life. 

If you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact me to schedule a call or reach out at 908-895-2406 or marge@randfinancialplanning.com.

About Marge

Marjorie Rand is founder and financial advisor at Rand Financial Planning, a comprehensive, fee-only, fiduciary financial planning firm based in Flemington, New Jersey. Marge specializes in helping her clients plan for a secure retirement and navigate life’s many transitions through customized, tax-efficient retirement planning. She is passionate about empowering her clients to make the best financial decisions for their life and being by their side no matter what life throws at them. Marjorie spent many years as a CPA, specializing in estates, before founding Rand Financial Planning so she could be a go-to source for all her clients’ financial needs and help them avoid costly mistakes. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Rutgers University and a Master of Science in Taxation from Fairleigh Dickinson University, along with the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certifications. When she’s not working, Marge enjoys boating, horseback riding, traveling, and hiking with her husband and her dog, Rangeley. To learn more about Marjorie, connect with her on LinkedIn.

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