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Facing Your Finances After Losing a Spouse: 4 Steps to Take Now, Part 1

When a spouse passes away, it’s a devastating loss, and it can be hard to even think about all the financial concerns that need to be dealt with, let alone begin to tackle them. Rather than trying to take everything on at once, we’ll help you focus on the essentials: four finance-related tasks that should be addressed as soon as possible after losing a spouse. In “4 Things to Do After Losing a Spouse, Part 2” we’ll look down the road at possible future considerations, but here are the things you’ll need to do right away.

  • Gather documents. First, start with the basics, like Social Security numbers, birth and marriage certificates, car titles, powers of attorney, company benefits paperwork and any military discharge papers. Keep in mind that not only will you need to locate printed copies of important documents, but you may also need usernames and passwords to access online accounts and retrieve files. Request multiple copies (15 or so) of your spouse’s death certificate from the vital statistics office in your area or via your funeral director. You’ll need it to be able to verify the death with organizations like the Social Security Administration, as well as to change accounts into your name for credit cards, mortgages and insurance. Consider:
    • Bank, brokerage and retirement accounts
    • Bills
    • Credit cards
    • Life insurance policies
    • Estate documents
    • Taxes
    • Titles and deeds
  • Update accounts. Changing the contact name on pertinent accounts like bank accounts, pensions, insurance and credit cards allows you to ensure future bills, statements and other communications come to you.
  • Pay what’s due. One small but important step to help protect your financial future after losing a spouse is to pay any bills that are due now. Also, make sure you know the bill payment schedule to make it easier to keep up with them going forward. This will help you not only avoid interest charges and late fees, but also safeguard your credit rating.
  • Seek help from professionals. Just as you have a social network to lean on, you may also need financial professionals who can help you sort through the info-gathering process now and address big-picture financial questions down the road. Think about contacting:
    • A financial advisor: They are specially trained to help you understand how a change like the loss of a spouse can affect your finances—and what you can do to preserve your financial future, from assessing your financial risks to reviewing your asset allocations. A financial advisor can also help coordinate efforts with the other professionals listed below.
    • An estate-planning attorney: They can be helpful if your estate will need to be settled and/or you need to update your own will and power of attorney.
    • A tax accountant: A certified public accountant can help you navigate any tax issues that arise due to the loss of your spouse and advise on taxable vs. nontaxable benefits to maximize your deductions.

When you’re ready to consider the next steps, read “Part 2: 4 Things to Keep in Mind for the Future After the Loss of a Spouse.” And for a more detailed guide, download the ebook “What to Do When Your Spouse Dies.”

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