Dealing with the Loss of a Spouse

October 04, 2016

Dealing with the Loss of a Spouse - Your Complete Financial Guide


The loss of a spouse is one of the most difficult times that we ever experience. The process is often overwhelming, confusing and disorienting. It is important to remember that these feelings are natural, and that mourning is an essential part of healing. It is also important to recognize that your grief and the relationship you had with your spouse are unique. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all system for managing the complex feelings that will inevitably arise during this difficult time. Consider adopting a one-day-at-a-time philosophy as you begin to move forward and allow yourself to grieve.  


As you navigate through this overwhelming current of emotions, important financial decisions affecting your future will need to me made. This guide is designed to help you make the appropriate financial choices available to you upon the death of a spouse. While every loss is unique and every marriage distinct, consider this guide a basic roadmap to help you navigate the stream of financial decisions that will inevitably require your attention. Having resources and information regarding your financial future readily available may make things easier in the weeks and months ahead.


Step 1: Gather important documents


First, gather the necessary paperwork that you will need to finalize your spouse’s financial affiliations. These include certified copies of the death certificate from the medical examiner’s office and estate documents, such as wills, trusts, investments, life insurance statements, and bank account information. Additionally, if you are applying for benefits you will also need copies of your marriage certificate.


You may find it helpful to keep track of required documents in a notebook (or digitally on your phone). This way you can mark items off as you collect them in a designated location.


  • Death certificate
  • Birth Certificate
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Wills and trusts
  • Medical Cards
  • Life Insurance
  • Organ Donor Card
  • Bank Statement


While gathering these documents can feel overwhelming, it is an essential step that will help you better understand your financial landscape. Rely on family and friends for emotional support throughout the process and in the months ahead.


Step 2: Seek guidance from a qualified financial advisor


Next, contact your attorney and schedule an appointment. Your attorney will review the terms of the will and probate the estate. This is the legal process of distributing assets. You will want to seek the guidance of a qualified financial advisor. Ideally, this will be someone you trust and hold in high esteem. This may or may not be the same person your spouse consulted. If possible, ask a reliable friend or family member to accompany you. This is the time to bring up any inquiries or concerns to ensure that all of your questions are answered.


An experienced financial advisor will be able to help you coordinate a variety of details and legal requirements including:

  • Contact the Social Security Administration to report the death and discuss available benefits.
  • Notify all insurance companies and discuss life insurance policy stipulations. Policies may include individual and group life, auto credit life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment insurance, mortgage insurance, credit card insurance, and annuities.
  • Notify all banks, investment companies and credit card companies.
  • Contact employers and business partners regarding retirement and pension plans, buy-sell agreements, and ownership interests in the business or property, as well as any IRA custodians or trustees.
  • Request copies of all shareholder agreements if the spouse was a business owner.  
  • File the will with the corresponding probate court.
  • File ancillary probate if real estate was owned out of state.
  • Retitle jointly held assets including bank accounts, vehicles, stocks and bonds, and real estate.


Step 3: Establish a financial plan


Once your initial meeting with your financial advisor has successfully concluded, you should feel a bit of relief. Now is a good time to schedule future appointments, as you will need to meet regularly in the months ahead. Scheduling in advance will help you manage the process without feeling pressured or rushed. Your financial advisor will help you establish a financial plan that accounts for both your income sources and needs. This will further increase your confidence as you gain a better understanding of what to expect in the future. 


Your financial advisor can help you reevaluate your budget to determine your short-term and long-term financial goals, insurance needs, and investment options. Your financial plan should address the following concerns:


  • Do I need to reevaluate my tax filing status?
  • Should I move or pay off my house?
  • Should I reassess my existing will (or establish a new one)?
  • Will I need health or life insurance for myself?
  • Can I continue to provide for my dependents by myself?
  • Should I continue to contribute to education funds for my children?
  • Will my plans for retirement change dramatically?
  • How should I distribute my investments?
  • What should I do about Social Security?
  • Do I have enough money saved for retirement?
  • How long will my money last?
  • Will I have to go back to work?


It is important to note that these are difficult questions, and they are listed at the end of this guide for a reason. Trying to address these questions too soon will only lead to increased anxiety. Remember that you are not alone. Rely on the experience of a qualified financial advisor to help you take control of your financial situation, as well as on close family and friends for emotional support.


Allow yourself to express your grief openly with loved ones as well as any fears about the future or feelings of loneliness. Speaking openly will not only help you move forward and begin to heal, but will also strengthen existing bonds, or possibly even establish new connections, with others in your family or circle of friends who are also grieving.


As you experience the multitude of emotions that naturally surge during a time of loss, remind yourself that as strange and unfamiliar as these feelings may seem, they are a normal and healthy part of the grieving process.

As you connect with others and begin to establish a firm support system, you may find it useful to reach out to others who have experienced a similar loss, or those who can provide guidance and support without judgement.


Feelings of loss and sadness can be incredibly draining, and you may find yourself feeling fatigued, or lacking the ability to think clearly. It is essential to treat yourself well, get daily rest, eat balanced meals, and rely on the help and support of network. While the death of a spouse is unquestionably devastating, your life must go on. By implementing these steps, you will begin to move forward and allow time for the most important step to begin—the healing process.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.