Steps to Take After The Loss of a Spouse

By Hope Carlson on August 31, 2021

Hello. I’m Hope Carlson with Dowling and Yahnke. Today we’re going to talk about what  to do following the loss of your spouse. Many of our clients whose spouses have passed away have told us how overwhelmed they can feel in those first few weeks and months in particular and so the goal of this video today is to help you prioritize to know what needs to be done now and what can wait for a few weeks months or even longer. I’ll add that this is meant to be general advice and so please do talk to your advisory team about your specific situation. Your situation is unique and you should receive advice that’s tailored to you, but hopefully the video provides some talking points for you to discuss in conversation with your advisors.

We’ll begin with some guiding principles.

First, get organized whether that’s a physical folder or an electronic folder on your computer.

Have a place where you are keeping all of the documents related to this estate transition.

Second, find your team.

This could be friends and family your professional advisors such as your financial advisor, CPA and estate planning attorney or others you know in your circle.  Our clients have told us that although they may have felt functional in the middle of  everything they only later realized that they were in a fog for quite a while and it was very helpful to them to have people alongside them as a second set of eyes and ears helping them make the decisions they needed to and keep track of all the key pieces of information.

And finally, wait to make any big life changes.

This could be selling your house or donating your loved one’s belongings or making a big investment decision or something else along those lines. If you do feel you must make an exception talk to your team first be sure to use that sounding board.

We’ll then turn to the immediate to do’s.

First, notify people in your circle

Your friends and family your colleagues and the professional advisory team you have.

If you’re holding a memorial service plan the memorial.

And finally, make sure to order many copies of the death certificate from the funeral home.

The exact number you need will depend on the financial accounts and institutions you have but it is always better to have more rather than fewer; you’ll be surprised at how many places will require certified copies of the death certificate.

In the first month it’s about getting organized.

Gather your documents your attorney should have copies of the will and trusts.

You’ll also need statements for all of your accounts life insurance and health insurance paperwork and tax returns.  Talk to your attorney as well about the next steps that you need to take. This will vary depending on the state in which you live as well as your assets and the legal documents you have in place.

Call the social security administration.

You may be entitled to benefits and the social security administration can help you figure out exactly what those benefits are and how to file. Be sure to share with them your age as well as whether you have children.

Notify the life insurance and health insurance companies and contact the credit bureaus.

Equifax, Experian, and Transunion are the three major bureaus. Ask them to send you a copy of your  spouse’s credit report and to place a deceased do not issue credit notification on your spouse’s credit because that will prevent people from opening credit cards in your spouse’s name.

And finally, cancel key items credit cards your spouse’s driver’s license a cell phone and so on.

Finally, in the first six months…

Talk to your spouse’s employer.

You may have health coverage options if you were on your spouse’s plan.  You may be entitled to benefits from the retirement accounts your spouse had. Your financial advisor can also help you navigate those particular options.

Update the titles for your home, car, insurance policies, financial accounts, and utilities…

as well as updating beneficiaries for insurance policies and the retirement accounts.

Update your legal documents.

Your will and trusts powers of attorney if they listed your spouse and your emergency contacts.

Finally, talk to your CPA.

You will need to file final tax returns for the income tax return and estate tax return and your CPA can help you navigate that. They typically are due by April 15th after the year in which your spouse passed away. In addition, ask your CPA about whether to elect portability of the deceased spouse unused exemption. This is beyond the scope of our video today but if you have questions you are welcome to reach out to us about what that means as well.

My contact information is on this page. Please feel free to reach out to me or any member of our team at any time. We’re happy to help. You can also find additional resources on our website at Thank you for joining me today. I wish you well.


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