Before a Spouse Dies

Losing a spouse ranks among the highest-level stress events that can occur during a person’s lifetime. The transition to learning how to live without that significant other often worsens with the added pressure of settling an estate. Fortunately, the best thing you can do in this situation is to avoid hasty decisions and to plan early. There are steps you can take now to ease the financial and emotional transition.

  • Get advice: This item is listed first, as this step should be taken well before a death occurs. Attorneys can help develop legal documents such as wills. They also can help explain estate settlement procedures. You also can larn more about funeral options so you don’t need to make last minute decisions that could cost you. Find out about how to obtain copies of death certificates needed by insurance companies and other benefit applications, and find a financial professional who is willing to help organize your finances both now and after a death has occurred.
  • Make important documents and financial records easy to find: Before an estate can be settled, important documents and financial records must be at hand. You may also need to obtain certified copies of certain documents. For instance, to apply for Social Security benefits, you’ll need to provide birth, marriage and death certificates. Locate them now, so that you don’t have this added stress put on you during your grief.
  • Get organized: Set up a file system that can be reviewed once a year or so, depending upon your situation. Gather all important documents and keep them in one place. Organize them by topic area. Set up a phone and mail system so you’re ready to call the people and organizations that will help you through your transition. This list would include phone numbers for your attorney, insurance agent, financial professionals, and friends – all of whom you can contact for advice. While you can keep much of this information at home, it would be best to keep documents such as a deed, insurance papers or a will in a safe deposit box. Make sure someone knows where an extra key is located in case you’re unavailable.
  • Evaluate short-term income and expenses: Decide now which expenses might need immediate attention after a spouse’s death. Even if you’re expecting money from benefits, those funds may not materialize for days or months. Once you determine how much it would cost to survive and pay bills for three to six months after a spouse’s death, you can begin to save this amount in a special account. This way, you have immediate access to liquid funds that can be used to pay for the funeral, the mortgage and any other pressing bills. If you cannot save this amount of money, you may be able to ask the insurance company for an advance (provided your spouse carried life insurance).

When you make plans in advance to be prepared for emergencies and death, you can avoid hasty decisions. For instance, don’t think about moving from your current home until you can make a decision based upon rational reasons rather than emotions. Plus, don’t spend money impulsively. This is why funeral pre-planning can help, especially when it applies to what your spouse wanted and not what you think needs to be done.

Finally, don’t give in to pressure to give away or sell your spouse’s personal items. Wait until you feel less stressed before you hand that watch over to little Billy or that serving platter over to the family antique hound. If you wait before you give things away or sell them, you’ll make decisions that you can live with for the rest of your life – without regrets.

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