Nobody wants to think about it and most people go through life pretending it will never happen – your spouse dies. Whether by accident or illness, the event is traumatic and overwhelming. At this difficult time, it is important to have a close friend or family member you can lean on for emotional support to tackle the difficult road ahead. In addition, there are several financial transactions that must be undertaken in order to move forward. To make things a little easier, this is a short list of items that should be considered once a loved one has passed.
- Obtain more than the normal number of certified copies of the death certificate. Funeral homes typically request ten copies but that may be insufficient for your particular purposes. Requesting a dozen or more initially saves time and frustration later on should more than ten be needed. It is better to have more than you need than not enough. And, It is much easier and less time consuming to get extra copies when first requested rather than it is to send a second request for more later on.
- Collect all of your financial documents and sort them. The process of sorting documents and listing company phone numbers may seem rather mundane, but at this time having a routine activity may help keep you focused on what needs to be done. Documents should be sorted so that the insurance policies are together, the retirement plan information is available, bank statements are accessible, and other investments can be listed. Having this information can help identify how much money will be coming in and which companies will be sending it.
- Contact the life insurance company. Insurance with a designated beneficiary bypasses probate and the death benefit is directly payable. Obtain the necessary forms to file a claim and submit it. Keep in contact with the insurance company to determine how well the process is going and how soon you can expect to receive a check.
- Get the will out of the safety deposit box, contact an attorney, and begin the probate process. It is not necessary to wait for the death certificates before you contact an attorney. The lawyer can advise you as to what documents are needed and can submit the required paperwork so that probate can be handled smoothly. In many instances, for small estates, the probate process can be concluded in the same time it takes to receive the death certificates.
- Cancel credit cards and bank accounts. If there are credit cards and bank accounts in both spouses’ names, the accounts should be closed and new accounts in the name of the survivor should be created. This is generally done after the death certificates have been received, and usually financial institutions want probate settled as well before this type of transaction can be conducted.
- 6. Don’t make any major life changes. It is often advised that the surviving spouse should not make any significant change to his/her life for one year after a spouse’s death. This prevents emotional entanglements or sentimental decisions that may not be in the survivor’s best interest over the long term.
Having a simple to-do list tucked in with your financial documents can save time and confusion during a time that is emotional and distressing. This checklist can be updated and revamped over time to account for ongoing changes in your life and lifestyle. Having a plan can bring some peace of mind. Although a person’s world changes drastically with the death of a loved one, it does not have to be a time of inaction and futility.
Mary Fox Luquette, MBA, CLU, ChFC is a Finance Instructor in the BI Moody III College of Business at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
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