I’ve written about this before, but I recently had an experience that reminded me of all the financial things that have to be handled when a spouse dies. In this case, a long-time client of mine died on a Monday. On Tuesday his wife was on the phone. She said, “You always told me to call you if anything happened to Steve. Well, he passed away yesterday. You know I don’t know anything about all this financial stuff. What do I do?”


When I got to the house, the dining room table was covered with all the financial information Barbara (not her real name) could find. So, we began.

The funeral home had already requested death certificates, which are essential for almost everything you need to handle after your spouse dies. Barbara had copies of the Will and the Trust documents, also necessary for many things involved in settling an estate.

We began by notifying the life insurance company of the death and requesting a death claim package. Once filled out and returned with a copy of the death certificate, the company will process the claim and send a check.

Next, we notified the insurance companies that held annuities for Steve and Barbara. In this case, all annuities were jointly owned, so it’s a process of retitling the annuities into Barbara’s name only, naming new beneficiaries, and beginning income from the annuities, which was the reason they were purchased.

All banks, credit unions, and investment companies were contacted and instructed to change the registration of the accounts from joint ownership to single. A decision that will have to be made is whether Barbara wants to consolidate all those accounts into a single account to simplify things for her.

We notified Steve’s previous employer about his death because he chose to leave his 401(k) there when he retired. The account has to be converted into Barbara’s name. Because Steve was taking Required Minimum Distributions, his RMD for the year has to be withdrawn before the account can be put into Barbara’s name. The same applies to IRA accounts. Once in Barbara’s name, she can decide if she wants to leave the 401(k) where it is or roll it over into her IRA.

With Steve’s passing, Barbara is now eligible for a Social Security Survivor benefit. Once she reaches her Full Retirement Age (FRA), which happens in seven months, she will receive 100% of what Steve was receiving at the time of his death. The funeral home notified Social Security about Steve’s death, so his check stops immediately. Barbara will notify Social Security when she’s ready to begin receiving the Survivor benefit.

With those notifications out of the way, we began working on Barbara’s budget. One of the best ways to do that is to look through your checkbook register and find those expenses that occur on a regular basis. But there are other expenses that may not be as obvious:

  • Auto maintenance
  • Veterinary bills
  • Postage
  • Trips to the barber or salon
  • Cost of groceries
  • Gas for the vehicles
  • Eating out
  • Entertainment expenses
  • Travel

We also tallied up how much cash was available in checking and savings accounts to make sure there was enough easily accessible to handle any needs that come up during the transition period.

It’s also important to know all sources of income and how much that is to see if additional income will be required from investment accounts.


Not so immediate is a list of things that will need to be handled at some point.

  • Contacting Social Security to receive the $255 funeral/burial benefit
  • Was the deceased a Veteran? If so, there may be military benefits such as $300 toward burial and funeral expenses or $796 toward internment if not buried in a national cemetery. If benefits are available, you’ll need Proof of Military Service, form DD 214.
  • Finding all passwords.
  • Collecting all deeds for houses/property
  • Finding car titles. You will need to notify the auto insurance company.
  • Canceling or reregistering credit cards that were in the deceased’s name alone.
  • Inventory the safe deposit box at the bank.
  • Close subscriptions for magazines, newspapers, newsletters as well as online subscriptions.
  • Cancel memberships to
    • Health clubs
    • Professional organizations
    • Civic organizations
    • Cultural organizations
    • Book clubs
    • Alumni associations
    • Discount clubs (Sam’s, Costco, etc.) but you have the option of converting those memberships to your name.
  • Automatically filled prescriptions
  • AARP
  • AAA Motor Club

By canceling these things, you also avoid the possibility that someone will steal your spouse’s identity later and create headaches for you. For that reason, also cancel:

  • Driver’s license
  • Voter registration
  • Library card
  • Also, notify the three credit reporting agencies of your spouse’s death (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion).


In this process, you also need to update some things for you:

  • Review everything that has beneficiaries listed, such as retirement accounts, IRAs, insurance policies, annuities, and Transfer-on-death accounts. List the beneficiaries you want now, in this new phase of your life.
  • Update your emergency contact information.
  • Submit new HIPPA forms to doctors’ offices and medical facilities with the name(s) of the persons you now authorize to receive information about you.
  • Update your Will.
  • Update your Power(s) of Attorney.
  • Update your Advance Directives with the name of the person(s) who can now make medical decisions for you in the event you can’t.


You can see, it’s a long list of things that need to be taken care of after a spouse dies. Barbara was never interested in the household finances and let Steve handle everything. Now she has a huge learning curve to get up to speed. To keep from finding yourself in a similar circumstance, have some knowledge of your household finances; ask questions. It will make things a lot easier if you become the surviving spouse.



This article is presented as information only and should not be considered tax, legal or financial advice.