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  • Katherine Fonville

What To Do When a Spouse Dies

What to do when a spouse dies.

What should you do when your spouse dies? It’s an unfortunate fact of life for a third of all Americans 65 and over.

Women are more than twice as likely as men to spend several years in widowhood after the death of a spouse.

Although nothing can ease the burden of grief when a loved one dies, knowing what financial steps you and your family members should take can ease anxiety and fear about the future.

One thing is certain. The death of your spouse will be one of the most difficult times in your life.


If you feel overwhelmed, here’s a list of powerful resources to help you stay focused following one of the most devastating events in your life.


Don't make hasty financial decisions and take your time. Life does go on and often times tending to your financial affairs can be a much needed distraction.

Here's a checklist of what you should do if your spouse dies.

1. Collect the paperwork

The surviving spouse will need to gather records and documents to support claims for benefits.

In addition to the will and several certified copies of the death certificate (we recommend at least 10), you’ll need:

  • Insurance policy paperwork for any life, property, accident, and employer plans

  • Birth and marriage certificates

  • Social Security cards

  • Titles to any property.

If your deceased spouse was a veteran, military discharge papers may also be necessary. You’ll also need a list of assets and account numbers for any checking, savings, brokerage, loan, and credit card accounts.

⇒Action item you can do right now: Gather all your essential paperwork in a safe location and make sure both spouses know how to access it. Even if one spouse typically handles the finances, it’s important that both are aware of all assets and liabilities and where to find account statements and tax returns.

My husband passed away. What do I do? Access our free financial planning for widows resource library. You'll get access to key issues to consider after your spouse passes, key documents you should keep on file, and issues to consider before closing the estate.

2. Notify advisors and officials

You’ll need to make a lot of calls in the immediate aftermath of a spouse’s death.

Start by contacting your family attorney who drafted the will and make an appointment to begin the process of settling the estate. You should also call your financial advisor so assets can be assigned to named beneficiaries.

Resist the urge to cash out any investments before you meet with your advisor.

You should also contact your spouse’s current and previous employers.

Speak to someone in the Human Resources department who can send you any paperwork you need to complete to collect owed wages, sick leave, vacation pay, pension payments, and death benefits. If you or your children are covered under the employer’s insurance plan, request information about continuing your coverage under COBRA.

If the death was accidental, you may be able to collect additional benefits from financial institutions, professional associations, and your spouse’s employer or union. Life insurance benefits may be higher in the case of accidental death and you may be eligible for worker’s compensation and/or death benefits.

Get in touch with all banks, life insurance companies, health insurance providers, credit unions, and credit card companies to let them know of the death and to change account holder information.

You'll also want to check your spouse's safe deposit box at the bank.