Making funeral arrangements, paying medical bills and closing down accounts are just the start of the tasks that a surviving spouse must take charge of after a spouse dies, advises the recent article “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse” from U.S. News & World Report. It can be overwhelming, especially with the intense emotions that come with such a large loss.
Having a checklist of specific tasks may make this difficult time less stressful. This is because you will be able to see what has been accomplished, and what is yet to come.
Start by getting organized. Make a list of what you need to do and add to it as you think of new tasks. You should also track what you are doing, using a notebook to keep a record of who you spoke with and when. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask a family member or trusted friend. Being organized is a big help, when there are so many things that need to be done during such a hard time.
Review your spouse’s will and estate plan. Gather all the documents, from their last will and testament to insurance policies, trust paperwork and related documents. Call your estate planning attorney, since she can help you with settling the estate. The estate may need to go through probate or because of how assets were titled, you may be able to avoid probate.
Identify the executor. If you are the executor, or in some states this position is known as a personal representative, then you are the person in charge of managing the estate, including distributing assets. If someone else has been named, contact the person and be sure they are still willing and able to undertake the responsibilities.
Obtain original death certificates. All of the financial, legal and property matters will require an original death certificate, with a raised seal. It’s easier to have more than you need, so order ten to fifteen.
Talk with other professionals. The financial advisor, your accountant, and insurance broker, in addition to the estate planning attorney, will need to know that your spouse has passed. You will also need to notify the Social Security Administration. If your spouse was receiving benefits, depending upon when in the month they died, you may need to return money.
Avoid any big decisions. This is not the time to sell the house, move to another state or make any other large decisions, unless you must for financial reasons.
Carry out your spouse’s wishes. There is comfort in carrying out your loved one’s wishes. Giving money to a charity as per the will’s direction or handing a prized possession to a family member who will treasure it can be heartwarming, since it reminds you of the values that your spouse held dear.
Take time for yourself and your loved ones. Mourning and healing from loss are not easy times. Take the time to process the loss and grieve with other family members. Find comfort from those you love.
Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 28, 2020) “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse”