Dealing With the Loss of a Spouse

When someone loses a spouse, he or she deals with intense feelings of grief. Despite this emotionally trying time, the widow or widower is left with a laundry list of things to complete, including creating a new budget, cancelling accounts, collecting benefits, and more. Having someone to help complete this list while dealing with the death of a spouse can be a lifesaver for anyone who is mourning, especially a senior.

Dealing with Grief After the Death of a Spouse

Grief is a natural response to loss that impacts people physically and emotionally. Each person experiences grief in a unique way, but most people feel some combination of fatigue, nausea, confusion, guilt, fear, anger, loneliness, trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, and more. As the weeks and months pass, the grief should become less intense, and the person should start to move forward. If they’re struggling to find an outlet for dealing with their feelings, you might introduce them to a bereavement program. These programs offer resources, coping exercises, and relatable stories to guide the bereaved through the grieving process and to help them feel less alone.

However, some people don’t feel better, and some people may feel worse. This can be a sign that grief has developed into complicated grief or depression, which can make performing daily activities a struggle, cause him or her to disconnect from loved ones, or make him or her feel like life isn’t worth living. “The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people,” says Hobart and Williams Smith Colleges. Someone experiencing extreme grief or depression can find help by turning to friends and family, looking to faith, or speaking with a mental health professional.

Things to Avoid After the Death of a Spouse

There are some things someone in mourning should put off, including major life changes. Hold off on moving or selling any property, stocks, or bonds. Also, wait to give away money, even if it’s to family or charity. While some of these steps may make sense later on, it’s best to wait until the widow or widower is thinking clearly to handle these tasks.

Be aware that a salesperson may try to take advantage of a grieving person’s vulnerable state. Don’t buy financial products, such as an annuity or life insurance, on a whim. For example, an insurance agent may come to deliver the proceeds from the deceased spouse’s life insurance policy and attempt to persuade the surviving spouse to sign over the check for a new policy that he or she does not need.

First Steps for Dealing with the Death of a Spouse

First, gather the documents, including a Social Security card, birth and marriage certificates, military discharge papers, and titles to cars and homes. Obtain around 10 copies of the spouse’s death certificate. The certificate is required in order to transfer title on real estate, claim benefits, close accounts, or change ownership of investments.

Assess the cash flow, make a new budget, and handle cancelling or changing ownership of accounts and property. Get some help by creating a financial support team that includes an accountant, lawyer, financial planner, and a trusted friend or family member with solid financial skills.

Cancelling and Collecting

Keep a joint checking account for at least a year. Occasionally, checks to the deceased spouse come in, and if the account was closed or retitled, there won’t be a place to put the checks. Cancel club memberships and magazine subscriptions that are no longer needed. Don’t forget to take care of a 401(k) and IRA accounts and to cancel Medicare and other health insurance. Depending on the surviving spouse’s current health and assets, it’s important to review their own life insurance policy and decide whether it’s worth keeping or opting for a life settlement, which you can learn more about here.

Contact employers or pension plans to ask about benefits due to the widow or widower. Claim a Social Security benefit and collect life insurance benefits. You may need to name a new agent for financial power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, and healthcare directive. Until a meeting with the estate lawyer occurs, hold off on placing any of the deceased spouse’s assets in the widow or widower’s own name. You have nine months to file a federal estate-tax return, and some states have earlier deadlines.

Losing a spouse is one of the hardest things a person can go through. In addition to dealing with the many symptoms of grief, the widow or widower must tackle a long list of important tasks. Someone in mourning, particularly a senior, will benefit immensely from having someone who can help him or her deal with the struggles of grief while handling the financial and legal affairs after a spouse dies.

(Guest post from Jim Vogel –

About John Kimball

Over the past few decades, I have experienced most of these financial issues with both mistakes and successes. I sure wish someone had told me these things when I was first starting out. So many times I have cried out, "I want a do over!" when I learned a new financial lesson or tip. I aim to pass along to you the financial insights I have gained from experience, reading, analysis, and living the financial aspects of managing, saving, investing, and spending your money. I am an analyst with a large organization and happily married with two children on their way to an expensive college, no doubt. I read numerous financial blogs, websites, newsletters, magazines, newspapers, and books to bring you the latest news, insights, tips, and lessons combined with decades of experience.

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