Tackling Finances After the Loss of a Spouse

Losing your spouse is one of the most challenging things that can happen to you in your golden years. There are many decisions and choices to make as you manage your grief, especially regarding financial matters. Here are some tips on how to handle these issues so that they do not overwhelm you at this time.

Before Making Decisions…

Before you begin to make challenging choices, be sure you are properly managing your grief. Get the support and time you need. Big decisions need to be made, but not necessarily right away.  Instead, you should be taking steps to move through your grief over time, including dealing with any guilt you might experience. This post at the Grief Healing blog may be able to help.

Taking The First Step: Organization

Once you feel a bit stable and ready to tackle a project, you can take your first step in managing your finances: organization. Here is what to do next:

  • Gather all your documents. This is especially important if your spouse handled all the finances. This includes mortgage papers, birth and death certificates, marriage certificate, insurance policies, and your spouse’s will.
  • Assess your cash flow. You’ll need to know your ability to pay your monthly bills and how to make up for any shortfall. Ameriprise recommends that you tally up all assets, including current income, insurance policy proceeds, government benefits, investments, and retirement savings accounts.
  • Getting financial expertise. If this all sounds overwhelming, it can be. You may want to hire a financial planner to help monitor finances as part of a team that includes your accountant and lawyer. This team can reduce the burden of making financial decisions, help you to do things properly the first time, and protect your heirs. Read why it’s important to assemble a team of experts at this time, especially your own financial planner, at Fidelity.

Dealing with Benefits

There are some other key steps you’ll need to take once you’ve taken stock of everything, including:

  • Insurance benefits and changes. In addition to collecting life insurance, you’ll need to make changes to home and car policies if everything was under your spouse’s name. Learn what steps to take at Insure.com.
  • Your spouse’s 401K. You should roll your spouse’s 401K into yours. Learn how this works and when you need to cautious at MarketWatch.
  • Social Security benefits. According to The Balance, you can collect Social Security survivor benefits at age 60, but you’ll only end up with 70 percent of the benefits. If you wait until age 66 or 67, you can get full benefits depending on when you were born. If you are disabled, you can collect at age 50. You can also collect at any age if you have a child under the age of 16.
  • Benefits you might be missing. Call your spouse’s employer to make sure you’re not missing anything. If your spouse worked for the government, Rodgers Associates advises you contact the Federal Employees Retirement system for help with any benefits.

Learn more about how long it takes for life insurance to pay out and what can delay that process from Top Quote Life Insurance.

Making Major Decisions

For now, take the steps you need to make immediately. Larger, long-term decisions should not be made in the early stages of dealing with your grief. For example, it’s not wise to put your home up for sale right away; you may regret this decision later. If you cannot bear to stay in your home immediately following your loss, seek out family members or friends who can put you up for the interim.

Dealing with the loss of a spouse is an emotionally taxing time that will thrust many financial decisions upon you. Take your time by managing your grief, getting organized, and getting the support you need.