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6 Actions to Take After a Spouse Passes Away

Nancy N. Thomsen, MBA, CFP®

Director of Financial Education

Last Updated
May 17, 2022
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How a Qualified Wealth Manager Can Help You Through the Process

As far as stressful life events go, the death of a spouse tops the list.1 On top of struggling with overwhelming grief, there are several important financial tasks that must be handled promptly. While it’s important to move quickly on certain matters, you’ll also want to take time to understand the potential long-term implications of all decisions. Your wealth manager is a great resource to help you through this difficult process.

#1 – Contact your team.

You might be relieved to know that your financial advisory team can handle many of the most pressing tasks — and provide you with guidance on how to best complete the tasks you must handle yourself. Your first step should be to reach out to your wealth manager, estate planning attorney and accountant. If you’re a client of Creative Planning, one call to your wealth manager will get the ball rolling.

#2 – Tackle the most pressing issues.

Start with the tasks that are most urgent.

  • Obtain 10-15 copies of the certified death certificate.
  • Obtain a certificate of appointment to act as personal representative (if required by your state).
  • Notify the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) of your spouse’s death, and request a copy of his/her credit report.
  • Secure digital assets such as online subscriptions, social media accounts, credit card points, etc.
  • Notify banks and credit card issuers to prevent fraud.

#3 – Gain an understanding of your current financial situation.

Following the death of a spouse, it’s important to gain an understanding of your cash flow and expenses in order to identify any potential budget shortfalls. Begin by looking at your financial accounts to determine how much money is coming in versus how much is going out on a monthly basis.

If you have children under age 18 or children living with disabilities, you may be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits. In addition, if you have policies in place, you may be able to claim life insurance, either from your spouse’s former employer or through any private policies you may have purchased in the past.

The next step is to make a list of your assets and liabilities in order to gain an understanding of your overall financial health.

Assets include:

Liabilities include:

  • Mortgages
  • Consumer debt
  • Student loan debt
  • Car loans

#4 – Update accounts.

Begin transferring accounts into your name.

  • Contact financial institutions to update ownership and beneficiary designations on joint accounts, and determine how to transfer assets from accounts in your spouse’s name to your own. Consider leaving your spouse’s name on your checking account for at least six months in case you receive any checks in his/her name.
  • Update titles on your home and vehicle.
  • Update names and beneficiaries on insurance policies such as life, health, homeowner’s and auto.
  • Consider rolling over your spouse’s retirement accounts. If you’re the designated beneficiary, you should be able to transfer assets directly into your own qualified account. Your wealth manager can help you determine the best approach.

#5 – Don’t make any major decisions right away.

In the emotional turmoil following your spouse’s death, you may be tempted to make major life decisions, such as selling the house you shared, moving across the country to be closer to family or making a major career move. However, you may end up regretting these often-grief-driven decisions once the immediate shock of losing your spouse has passed.

Consider waiting one year before making any major decisions that would uproot your life. By that time, you should have a better grasp on your financial situation and what your new normal will look like.

#6 – Consider less urgent issues.

You don’t have to tackle all financial issues immediately. Once your accounts are secured, assets are in your name and your immediate needs are met, take some time to grieve before handling less-pressing issues. When you’re ready, your wealth manager can help with the following:

  • Updating your financial plan – You’ll likely want to make some changes to your financial plan to account for any changes in your income and expenses, incorporate assets from any insurance policies and make necessary adjustments to your investment portfolio. Your wealth manager will guide you through this process.
  • Reevaluating your estate plan – Review the following list to determine whether any of these documents might require changes (or need to be drafted).
  • Guardian designations for minor children
  • Trusts
  • Designated trustees
  • Healthcare proxies
  • Powers of attorney
  • Will

If you’ve recently experienced the loss of a spouse, it can be helpful to have a team of qualified professionals by your side to help ensure no financial detail is overlooked. At Creative Planning, we deliver credentialed, educated, experienced and action-oriented advisors, including Certified Financial Planner™ practitioners, Certified Public Accountants, insurance specialists, attorneys and other professionals who work together to help you achieve your goals. For help planning your financial future following the death of a loved one, schedule a call with a member of our team.

Footnotes:

  1. https://thriveglobal.com/stories/10-most-stressful-life-events/
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This commentary is provided for general information purposes only and should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. Past performance of any market results is no assurance of future performance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed reliable but is not guaranteed.

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