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Unbiased Financial Information Provided by Financial Finesse

This is a difficult topic to address. If your spouse dies, the trauma of the loss may make it very difficult to focus on your immediate financial affairs. Unfortunately, there are decisions that have to be made regarding the disposition of assets and the settlement of your spouse's estate. The following is a brief but important list of steps that can guide you as you begin to prepare for life without your spouse.

Collect necessary paperwork/documentation


  • Death Certificate: Get at least 10 certified copies. You will need these copies when you start dealing with banks, insurance companies, and any other organizations that you and your spouse had business relationships with. You can obtain these copies (for a nominal fee) from either your funeral director or your county's health department.
  • Insurance Policies: Locate any insurance policies (life, health, mortgage, etc.) on which you are a beneficiary or will need to amend title.
  • Social Security number(s): Make sure you have them not only for your spouse but also for any dependent children. Your spouse's Social Security number will be on the death certificate.
  • Marriage License: If you will be claiming benefits based on your marital status, you will need a copy of your marriage license. To obtain a copy, contact the office of the County Clerk where your license was issued.
  • Will: This should be with your family lawyer, in a safe, safety deposit box or with your spouse's personal belongings.
  • List of Assets: This is all property such as real estate, investment accounts, checking accounts, etc. Financial paperwork such as stock certificates and trust deeds might be found in a safe deposit box or another safe place.


After you have gathered the above paperwork, you should contact any company or agency that may owe you benefits.

The following are some of the most common types of benefits available and what you need to know to collect your benefits.

Insurance Proceeds

Contact any insurer that your spouse had a policy with. Life insurance is the most obvious (an individual policy and/or employer policy), but you may also have mortgage, auto, or credit card insurance.

Social Security

You may be eligible for Social Security benefits if your spouse paid into Social Security. (To find out if you qualify, call your local Social Security office at 800-772-1213.)

If you are eligible, there are two types of possible benefits available:


  • One-time death benefit of $255 for burial expenses. The payment can be applied directly to your spouse's funeral bill. This benefit is only available to eligible spouses or a child entitled to survivor benefits.
  • Survivor Benefits: When a person who has worked and paid Social Security taxes dies, certain family members may be eligible for survivor's benefits. These benefits are based on factors such as the deceased's earnings history, age of the surviving family member, and whether the surviving family member is disabled. The survivor's benefit typically ranges from about 71 1/2% to 100% of the worker's basic benefit amount. For more detailed information, visit the Social Security web site.


Employee Benefits

Contact your spouse's current employer and inquire about the following items:


  • A final paycheck owed to your spouse.
  • Money due your spouse for unused sick leave/vacation time.
  • Retirement plan(s) that your spouse was a participant in.
  • Any insurance paid for by the employer.


Also, contact prior employers as your spouse may have a vested benefit in one of their pension plans. In reference to any retirement plan or pension payout option, do not feel pressured to make any quick decisions. Seek advice from a financial planner on which payout option is in your best interest.

Change or Transfer Ownership of Assets

You will probably need to transfer ownership for assets held in your spouse's name only. You will also need to change title (to your name only) to certain assets you owned together. This may apply to things like:


  • Stock certificates
  • Bank accounts
  • Deeds of trust


Proceed with Caution

Again, the trauma of the loss may hinder your ability to make decisions. It is best not to make any immediate permanent decisions such as selling your house or changing jobs. You need to take time to consider your situation and evaluate what you want to do going forward. This is a very tough time in your life and you need to take time for yourself to get through it without making a decision you may later regret.

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