Dear Money & Crisis Reader,
There are few things more difficult and complicated than going through the death of a spouse.
Dealing with the passing of a loved one is an emotionally devastating crisis all by itself. But when you factor in the mountains of paperwork and the cold hand of bureaucracy, it becomes a waking financial nightmare.
Banks… cable companies… credit card companies… the Social Security office…
You’d think these organizations, some of which have been operating for 100 or more years, would have systems to deal with bereaved customers with respect and dignity.
But as Andrea Hansell wrote in Easy Street magazine after the death of her husband, the opposite is often true:
Customer service representatives in general tend to read from programmed scripts, and are not known for their kindness or sympathy.
It seemed to me, however, that mentioning my relatively young husband’s death provoked responses from them that were colder and more businesslike than usual.
They seemed anxious to get me off the phone, to pass me to their supervisor, to be done with me.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to make these folks more sympathetic to our plight. But we can make the process as a whole a lot easier to deal with.
Today, I’m going to give you a checklist of everything you need to do to ensure your financial stability after the death of a loved one.
Gather your documents: The first step is to gather all the documentation you’re going to need in one place. Documents you need include: the will, life insurance policy, Social Security numbers, birth and marriage certificates, military discharge papers, bills in your spouse’s name, company benefits booklets, car titles, powers of attorney, loan statements — along with current statements for bank, brokerage, and retirement accounts.
Death certificates: Contact the funeral director and request 15 copies of the death certificate. These will be needed to prove to various organizations that your spouse has indeed passed.
Contact an attorney: Contact your attorney and request a review of your spouse’s will. If your spouse was listed as beneficiary on your will, insurance policies, bank accounts or retirement plan, change these designations.
Review your spouse’s debts: Send a letter to each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — to get copies of your spouse’s credit reports to make sure you’re aware of all existing debts.
Contact your spouse’s employer: Contact the HR department at your spouse’s employer. They will provide you with any paperwork that needs to be completed. Check to see if you are due any money from your spouse’s accrued vacation or sick time. Or if they have any life insurance policies or other benefits for your spouse, such as a pension.
Pay your bills: Have all the bills transferred into your name. Take note of which bills are automatic and which ones have to be manually paid. Make sure you pay them on time or you could rack up costly fees. If you can’t afford to pay at this time, contact your creditors and request to delay payment. Remove your spouse’s name from any joint accounts and close any accounts that were in your spouse’s name only. Destroy any cards that were issued in your spouse’s name.
Call your insurance providers: If your partner had a life insurance policy, you want to get the ball rolling on this ASAP. It can be months before they approve your case and send the funds. Don’t forget to cancel any other active insurance policies your spouse may have had.
Apply for benefits: Contact the Social Security Administration to see if you are eligible for spousal and survivor benefits.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a friend or loved one with any of these tasks. All this paperwork could be overwhelming even if you weren’t dealing with emotional distress. There’s no shame in seeking help in your time of need.
Get in touch and let me know if there’s a specific crisis you need help with. Click here to send me an email right now. While I can’t provide personal advice, I can provide guidance in future issues of Money & Crisis.
All the best,
Editor, Money & Crisis
Editor’s note: The strategies you read about in Money & Crisis were developed with the help of Jim Rickards, the best-selling author of Currency Wars and The Death of Money.
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