• Steve Coker, CFP

A Surviving Spouse Checklist


There are a number of steps to take to manage a departed loved one’s finances. Knowing what to expect and what you can do will make the transition easier for you. This is a stressful time, so consider asking a friend or relative to help. It helps to stay organized. Here is a checklist to help organize your efforts. Where to look for records Sometimes finding the appropriate information is one of the most difficult steps. Here is where to look: • Personal files. Many people keep their financial records together in a filing cabinet or near where they pay the bills. • Personal financial management software. If your spouse used financial management software, the program should have a list of accounts. You can also review the transaction history. • Computer folders. Search computers for folder names that might pertain to the estate. • Mail. Financial institutions will continue to send statements and interest or dividend checks. Watch for correspondence from banks or investment companies. • E-mail. Your spouse may have been receiving electronic notifications. Access e-mail accounts for messages from financial companies. • Safe deposit box. A bank officer or other official representative may need to be present to take inventory of the box’s contents. • Bank Statements. If you are not sure if your spouse had life insurance, try reviewing the bank statements to look for life insurance premiums paid. Bank statements can also be helpful to understand income sources or required debt payments to make sure your records are complete. For example, if you see a payment on the bank statement for a credit card that you do not recognize, then it may be an indication that you have more research to do to track down that credit card.

Paperwork to Gather

Here is a list of important documents that will be helpful to your attorney, financial advisor, and CPA as they assist you through this process:

o Legal documents.

  • Will

  • Trust documents

  • Insurance policies

  • Property deeds

  • Automobile titles

  • Tax Returns

  • If applicable:

  • Divorce settlement and child support orders from any previous marriage.

  • Military discharge papers.

o Death certificate. You generally will not be able to do anything regarding your spouse’s assets without certified copies of the death certificate. You can order copies from the funeral director or government agencies, such as your state’s Department of Health or Office of Vital Statistics. Websites such as vitalrec.com provide instructions for ordering death certificates in your state.

o Insurance Policies. These may include life insurance, health insurance, homeowner’s insurance, and auto insurance.

o Statements for financial assets. These may include bank and investment accounts, retirement plans, real estate, certificates of deposit, and other assets.

o Statements for Debts. These may include a mortgage, credit cards, commercial loans, student loans, and other forms of debt.


Steps to take

o Contact an attorney. Review your spouse’s will and discuss how the probate process will work. Your attorney will file the will with the court and help execute the will throughout the process.

o Contact your life insurance provider if an active life insurance policy was in place. Life insurance is typically paid out quickly and can be a source of needed cash.

o Contact your financial advisor to obtain access to assets in your name and your spouse’s name. Begin processes to inherit assets that were left to you or re-titling assets held jointly.

o Contact your spouse’s employer.

  • Request information about your spouse’s retirement plan and any other death benefits.

  • Discuss health insurance options if you and your children were covered through your spouse’s employer.

o Make sure that key bills are being paid. Put bills in your name and contact creditors about delaying payments if you are not able to pay the bills immediately.

o Contact Social Security to claim any death benefit and/or survivor benefit.

o Contact all other providers of insurance policies (auto, credit card, homeowners, etc.) to change the name on the policies.

o Contact any creditors (e.g., credit cards) to close accounts and remove your spouse’s name from joint accounts.

o Update the name on deeds and titles, such as on homes or vehicles. Contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles for vehicle title changes.

o Change designation on your will, insurance policies, bank accounts or retirement plans if your spouse was listed as a beneficiary.

o Contact the Veteran’s Administration if your spouse was in the military.

o Contact the labor union if your spouse was a member to see if they can offer any assistance.

o File a claim for medical bills If an illness and medical care preceded your spouse’s passing. Organizing medical bills can be a large task and keeping a good record is important.

o Contact a tax professional to assist you with taxes.

o Contact your child’s financial aid office if your child is in college. You may qualify for more assistance.

o Cancel memberships to clubs or organizations in your spouse’s name.

o Contact the business attorney and/or other business owners if your spouse had business ownerships. Ask about maintaining the business and quickly transitioning the operations. A business may be a key asset and source of income.

o Contact your spouse’s former employers to see if they have any life insurance policies, pensions or 401(k) plans in your spouse’s name.

o Send a letter to each of the three major credit bureaus to get your spouse’s credit reports to ensure you are aware of all existing debts. Request that the following notation be listed on the credit report: “Deceased – Do not issue.”

  • EQUIFAX Equifax Information Services PPC Office of Consumer Affairs P.O. Box 105169 Atlanta, GA 30348

  • EXPERIAN P.O. Box 9701 Allen, TX 75013

  • TRANSUNION (TU) P.O. Box 6790 Fullerton, CA 92834

o Develop a plan for the future. Consult with financial advisor to develop a financial plan going forward. It is important to consider your long-term plan, including how long your assets may last, whether you will work, whether you should make changes to your lifestyle, and how your assets should be invested.

DISCLOSURE Information on this website and others should be used at your own risk. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Securities investments involve risk; returns in such investments vary and may involve gain or loss. The materials and content herein are not a substitute for obtaining professional tax, personal financial planning, or other relevant financial advice from a qualified person or firm. For full disclosure click on the disclosure link at the bottom.

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