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After the death of a loved one, adjusting is always hard. Grief can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to think about practical things at this hard time. Unfortunately, at some point, you will have to consider things like how to manage your finances after the loss of a spouse.
Take Over The Bills
If your partner took care of any bills, take them over as soon as possible to avoid accidentally running up late payment fees. Gather all the bills and check when they’re due, and how much you’ll owe. Check your account to make sure you can afford to pay.
If any bills were paid from your spouse’s account, these won’t be paid as the bank will have frozen the account. Update the payment details as soon as you can to make sure these bills are paid from your account. Move any accounts that were in their name to yours, and consider removing their name from anything you held jointly.
Collect Any Death Benefits
If your partner had life insurance, collect it to help you keep the cash flow going while you straighten out the other finances. If your partner was killed in an accident, you may be able to claim compensation, which will also help. Speak to a wrongful death lawyer to see if you have a claim.
You may be entitled to pension income too. If you’re over 60 or are under 60 with children under 16 living with you, you may also be eligible for survivor’s benefits. If your spouse was a veteran, contact the US Department of Veterans Affairs, as you may be able to claim burial expenses from them.
Get The Death Certificate
After a death, the death must be registered with the local or state vital records office. They can then issue copies. You’ll need several copies of the death certificate to send to financial institutions, like the life insurer, credit card companies or the mortgage holder.
Organize Any Financial Documents
Make a list of the household’s bank accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement plans, insurance policies, loans, credit cards, and mortgages. Get the most recent statement in front of each. Armed with up to date information, you can prioritize contacting them to inform them of the death and make arrangements to put everything into your name.
Track down copies of your joint tax returns too, as well as your marriage certificate. You’ll need these too to sort out the money. Change the title and registration documents of any cars your spouse owned into your name.
As horrible as it is to consider, your deceased spouse could be vulnerable to identity theft. Some thieves will target those who have recently passed away. Change all personal identification numbers and passwords for bank accounts, mutual funds, computer security systems for any investments and finances and credit, debit and ATM cards. Cancel any credit cards that were held jointly and apply for new ones in your name only.
Don’t Make Any Big Financial Decisions
It can be tempting to make rash decisions in the aftermath of a death, such as choosing to sell your house or the family business or investing money from life insurance payouts.
Making a choice like this while you’re emotional is never a good idea, as you won’t be thinking straight. Instead, wait a few months to make a big decision. Be wary of anyone who pushes you to invest with them. As unpleasant as it is, there are people who will prey on the recently bereaved as a way to get investors. Take any advice from friends and relatives with a pinch of salt. They mean well, but what worked well for them may not work for you. Wait until you feel clearer.
If you weren’t previously the one who dealt with the household finances, it might be wise to find a financial adviser to help you get started with taking over handling the money. Ask your friends, your CPA or lawyer for recommendations to find someone reliable, honest and unbiased. You could also visit the websites of The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, The Financial Planning Association and The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.
If you’re now down to a single income, it’s wise to learn to manage on a smaller budget. Take a realistic look at your finances and make sure you can afford your lifestyle on your new income. Cut back on any unnecessary spending where you can and make sure your finances are in order to care for you and your family.