The death of a spouse is one of the most traumatic experiences that someone will ever experience. It can also be a costly one, if the right steps aren’t taken.
In most cases, the husband dies first which leaves his widow struggling to deal with his passing both emotionally and financially.
Here is some advice for widows which holds true for widowers as well.
While a spouse’s death will lead to many changes, it’s important to know which tasks should be attended to in the weeks immediately following. Bills need to be paid and so do taxes. Some recurring expenses of the deceased spouse can be cancelled right away such as gym memberships, professional dues and subscriptions.
Widows should make sure to maintain their health insurance and, if they were covered by their late husband’s policy, they should contact his former employer promptly.
Don’t rush to decide whether or not to pay off the mortgage or to sell the house. Deciding whether to stay put or possibly move across the country to live with grown children doesn’t need to be done right away.
This can be a particularly challenging task for surviving spouses who didn’t pay much attention to the financial side of the marriage. Once the accounts have been identified, contact the associated financial advisor or financial institution about having the joint accounts re-titled. Copies of death certificates are usually required for this process.
Widows should check on any life insurance coverage that their late husbands had. There may be individual policies as well as policies secured through an employer.
Widows will likely need to choose whether to take life insurance proceeds as a lump sum or via monthly payments for life.
Insurance agents may try to steer you to buy a variable or immediate annuity with the proceeds. Consult your financial advisor before purchasing any insurance product. If you don’t have an advisor, consider consulting with a fee-only financial planner who doesn’t stand to benefit from the annuity commission.
Update insurance and estate plans. Widows who have their own insurance policies should make sure that their deceased spouse is no longer the beneficiary. The same goes for IRA accounts. They should also revise their own will and other estate planning documents and if they don’t have a plan, they should get one.
It can be hard enough to successfully navigate financial choices when spouses are married. It can be even more difficult when you are alone and grieving.
It’s important to find an advisor who can tailor an investment plan to your new financial reality and preferences. While a deceased spouse may have enjoyed trading individual stocks, the surviving spouse may prefer to delegate the investment decisions to a professional. Don’t become wedded to keeping the inherited investments for sentimental reasons.
Choose an advisor who is a fiduciary. A fiduciary must act in the best interest of clients when making investment decisions. A fiduciary will only recommend investments that are suitable for your particular circumstances. Any potential conflicts of interests, as well as any associated fees, must be clearly disclosed.