Financial Recovery: When Your Spouse Dies
However, once the immediate activities settle down, the reality of grieving and adjusting to your new situation begins. Part of that includes gathering together important papers so that you can begin to sort out your finances. These papers could be located in the home of the deceased, in a safe deposit box, or with a family attorney or accountant. Although after a death, time often seems to move forward quickly, be aware that you will want to allow up to a year to complete everything and the process will most likely require a great deal of patience on your part.
Making financial decisions at any time can be difficult and draining, but during this time the task can become particularly overwhelming. Don’t hesitate to ask a trusted friend or family member to assist you or keep you company. Do not make any decision until you are ready to do so.
Some of the documents you will need to locate and gather include:
- Letters of instruction (such as direction for anatomical gifts)
- Trust documents
- Your spouse’s most recent W-2 form from their employer
- Records of employee benefits such as insurance or retirement accounts
- Records of other insurance policies like life, auto or homeowner’s. Don’t forget to check on insurance through clubs or groups to which your spouse belongs – like AAA, or a professional organization. (To locate a lost policy, write to the Missing Policy Service at the American Council of Life Insurance, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20004, or call 202-624-2455. It will query the 100 largest companies)
- Real estate documents (titles, deeds, recent mortgage statement)
- Financial statements for other accounts (checking, savings)
- Stock certificates or mutual fund statements
- Documents for any outstanding loans (personal loan, auto, credit cards)
- Vehicle titles, registrations
- Government papers like joint tax returns for the past five years, social security card, or military discharge, if applicable
- Birth and marriage certificates
- Death certificates (These can usually be ordered from the funeral home. Conventional wisdom suggests obtaining anywhere between seven and ten certified copies of the death certificate because while some creditors will accept a copy of the death certificate, others may require a certified copy.)
- Your current financial budget so you can begin to determine what adjustments will need to be made
Other things to keep in mind during this stressful time that may help guide you through are:
- Do not let originals documents out of your sight – if someone needs something provide them with a copy
- Keep a master file of everything with divisions for bank accounts, titles, property etc
- Write down what you do with everything – you may give someone a memento and think of it two years later and then spend hours looking for it because you don’t remember what you did with it.
- Make a living list – all the things you need to do (both “normal” tasks that keep your household running – like putting the garbage out for pick up – as well as the “special” tasks of your situation, as you move forward). Review daily for the first few weeks, adding and deleting items as they apply. This will prevent responsibility from falling through the cracks.
- Make notes of who you spoke with and where regarding any official business – lots, funeral arrangements, inscriptions, certificates, applications for benefits. You will be amazed at all the things you think you’d never forget that you cannot recall in a couple of weeks or a month down the road.
Finally, if you are completing a debt management program with Credit Advisors Foundation, don’t hesitate to call our client care department to ask for assistance in handling your creditors or in determining what form of notification your or your spouse’s creditors will require.