Loss of a Spouse or Loved One

The death of a spouse is one of life’s worst tragedies. The emotional blow can turn your world upside down and leave you feeling alone, adrift, and emotionally overwhelmed and incapacitated. Even though you might feel like withdrawing completely, there may be a lot of legal and financial matters for you to deal with. Luckily, you will have a lot of support—often coming from unexpected sources. Let them help. It will make them feel better, too.

Having a plan will help you focus on the tasks that need your attention. Funeral arrangements will probably be your first priority. There may also be religious and cultural requirements to take into consideration when making funeral and burial arrangements. Let your friends, family, priest, minister, or rabbi help you through this.

Your next priorities involve legal and financial issues. You’ll need to locate your spouse’s will, insurance policies, property deeds, financial statements, and other important legal papers. Have your attorney review the will and handle the legal aspects of the estate. Your insurance agent can help you claim life insurance benefits.

There are normal day-to-day matters that require immediate attention, too. There may be bills to pay that should be handled in timely fashion. Do you have access to sufficient money? Were your bank accounts held jointly? Was your spouse the family’s primary breadwinner? Gather up bank account information, including safety deposit box information, investment statements, pension plan records, IRA statements, retirement plan statements—everything that relates to your spouse’s assets. There may be many organizations that need to be notified of your spouse’s death—including Social Security—in order for you to receive any death benefits due you.

In the meantime, you need to make sure the daily ongoing stuff of life continues. Important bills, like the mortgage and utilities, need to be paid. Even in the most democratic of households, one spouse often handles most of the financial matters. If you are that person, you may be better able to cope with this transition. But if your spouse was the one to manage the finances, this may be new and uncharted territory for you. Enlist the help of trusted advisors, and take the time to carefully evaluate your financial situation before making any major decisions about investments or other important issues.

After the first tier of priorities gets handled, there is a second tier of notifications to think about. These may include your spouse’s credit cards, newspaper or magazine subscriptions, alumni associations, memberships in any religious, charitable, or professional organizations your spouse may have belonged to—the list could be extensive. Some have a monetary purpose attached to them—like canceling a gym membership—and some may be just to avoid future annoyances, like your spouse’s alumni association calling for a donation six months after the funeral.

As you begin to adjust to your new life, you will have other major concerns to consider. How do you manage the finances? What investments make sense for you now? If you work, is your current job adequate to cover your needs? If you haven’t been working, will you need to return to some kind of employment? Are your insurance coverages adequate? Should you sell the house and move away? Are there educational expenses for the children coming up? Can you afford a new car?

Your friends, family and advisors can help you make some of these decisions, and there is plenty of professional advice available to help you deal with everything from grief counseling to figuring out your options with an insurance settlement. With support and guidance, and the benefit of time, you’ll be able to stand on your own again with confidence.

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