If Your Spouse Dies

Man Processing ChecklistWhen your spouse dies you have tasks beyond arranging for the funeral and obituary and notifying relatives, and some of these should be taken care of as soon as possible. Getting through the loss of a spouse is hard, but you can get through it (and hopefully financially intact). Even if you weren’t the spouse who paid the bills or handled savings, there’s no reason you can’t become that person now. The best thing you can do now is stay organized. Put one foot in front of the other.

As much as possible, take your time when making financial decisions after you lose a loved one. Before you make any decision, reflect on it and talk with your advisors, whether professionals or trusted people in your inner circle. Seek out other resources, too, so that you can gather as much knowledge as you can and move into the next phase of your life with a solid financial action plan. Most of all, take each day as it comes while you adjust to a new way of life.

This is a checklist of some of the most important financial and security tasks, more or less in order of priority:

  1. Obtain at least 5-10 certified copies of the death certificate, normally through the funeral home. You can also order them from the vital statistics office of the state or county where the death occurred, such as the Arizona Department of Health Services or  Marciopa County Vital Records. Each certificate will cost from $20-40.
  2. Report the death to the deceased's retirement plan(s), and/or to your own plan if the deceased was a beneficiary on your retirement plan. In the latter case, if your pension is through the Arizona State Retirement System, you may choose to rescind the Joint and Survivor option or name another beneficiary. No retroactive increases to your monthly pension benefits can be made to you if you delay this process. If payments do not stop right away, you will have to deal with complicated repayment. You will need the name and, if applicable, the number of the retirement plan, and probably your spouse's social security number when you make this contact. Ask about the death benefit.
  3. Report the death to the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213. If you are a surviviing spouse, ask about eligibility for increased personal benefits. If payments do not stop right away, you will have to deal with complicated repayment.
  4. Report the death to the IRS. Send the IRS a copy of the death certicate. Mail it to the campus where the deceased would have normally filed his or her taxes. Once the document is received, officials at the IRS office will flag the account that the person is deceased.
  5. If your spouse was a veteran, contact the Veterans Administration at 1-800-827-1000. Veterans' pension and disability payments cease at death; amounts received after death must be returned to the VA. However, as surviving spouse you may be eligible to receive a portion of those benefits.
  6. Stop or modify health insurance. If your spouse received Medicare, Social Security will inform the program of the death. If the deceased had been enrolled in a program for Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D), a Medicare Advantage plan, a Medigap policy, or a supplement or had insurance that was not Medicare, notify the plan using the number provided on each plan membership card. If you do not have your own individual coverage, you will need to discuss options with the health insurance carrier. If your spouse was an ASRS retiree, you may elect to enroll in the ASRS medical and/or dental insurance plans if you are the dependent beneficiary of your spouse's pension benefit. See our article on Choosing Health Insurance if you need to make a change.
  7. Notify life insurance companies. If your spouse had life insurance, appropriate claim forms will need to be filed. You will need to provide the policy numbers and a death certificate. If the deceased was listed as a beneficiary on a policy, arrange to have the name removed.
  8. Close credit card accounts, if they are not joint. Call the customer service phone number on the credit card, monthly statement or issuer's website.
  9. Close bank accounts, if they are not joint (the executor should do this). Call the customer service number on the credit card, or on the website for the bank.
  10. If your spouse has a cell phone, close or modify the account. 
  11. Check your utility and other bills to be sure all of them are in both of your names. Most companies require your name to be on the account before you are able to act as administrator of the service. Be aware that companies often have to shut the service down and then restart it in order to change the name on the account.
  12. Meet with a probate attorney. The executor should choose the attorney. Getting recommendations from family or friends might be the best approach, but an online search can also be an efficient way to find an attorney. If there is a will, the executor named in it and the attorney will have the document admitted into probate court. If there isn't a will, the probate court judge will name an administrator in place of an executor. The probate process starts with an inventory of all assets (personal property, bank accounts, house, car, brokerage account, personal property, furniture, jewelry, etc.), which will need to be filed in the probate court.
  13. Contact financial advisers, stockbrokers, etc. Determine the beneficiary listed on accounts and how the beneficiary may get access.
  14. Notify credit reporting agencies. To minimize the chance of identity theft, notify the three major firms — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — as soon as possible so the account is flagged. Contact one of the agencies by phone. They'll make a note on the account and give you specific instructions about how to go about filing a written notice. The company you contact will notify the other two.
  15. Cancel driver's license. Clearing the driver's license record will remove the deceased's name from the records of the department of motor vehicles and help prevent identity theft. Contact the state department of motor vehicles for exact instructions. You may have to visit a customer-service center or mail documentation. Either way, you'll need a copy of the death certificate.
  16. Cancel passport, if you wish. You may also keep it as a memento. See the U.S. Passport Service guide for information on options and how to cancel.
  17. If your spouse has a Facebook account, you can memorialize their account. This will let current friends continue to post and share memories but will keep anyone from logging into it in the future. You may also choose to close social media accounts.
  18. Close email accounts. If your spouse used an address at the ASU post office, i.e., an address ending in @asu.edu, you may continue to use it to assure that correspondence from financial institutions and friends reaches you. You should, however, redirect that address to send mail to your own email account. See Using Your ASU E-mail Address for information. 
  19. Update your estate plan and legal documents that named your spouse such as wills and powers of attorney. You may not need to modify deeds, titles, etc. that indicated ownership as joint.
  20. Arrange to file taxes appropriately for your spouse.

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