| May 25, 2012

Financial steps to take following the death of a spouse

No one likes to think about death, and when it involves the death of a spouse, the thought is even more unsettling. However, losing a loved one and not knowing what type of financial recourse to take will only add to the stress and pain. For this reason, it's important to be prepared and know which actions need to be taken if a spouse should pass away.

First, individuals should gather all estate planning documents, including wills, insurance policies, retirement account information, deeds and investment statements. It's also important to consult with the executor of the will, if it's not the surviving spouse, and the estate attorney. This will help surviving spouses better understand how to transfer assets to their name, if applicable, and account for what they now own. In addition, individuals should make several copies of their spouse's death certificate. This is crucial because when individuals try to take out funds through any financial or insurance company, the firms will not even consider taking action until they have a copy of the death certificate, according to Forbes.

Second, individuals should examine all financial accounts held jointly to determine the balances and their new financial obligations. This includes credit card accounts, mortgages, auto loans and other type of credit accounts. Accounts that are owned jointly are the responsibility of both spouses, even if one passes away. No one wants to deal with topics such as credit card debt following the death of a loved one, but falling behind on these accounts can lead to credit score damage and make it more difficult for individuals to obtain good rates and terms in the future. During this process, it's also important to close accounts that were held solely by the deceased spouse. Keep in mind that institutions will require death certificates for this process as well.

Lastly, individuals will need to assess their new financial situation and create a budget to determine if they can manage their new circumstances on one income or retirement funds. Working with a professional, such as a credit counselor, can be particularly helpful and ease some of the stress a survivor may be feeling. Professionals can walk individuals through each account obligation and help them formulate a money management plan to meet their needs. This can be especially beneficial for individuals who were not accustomed to managing the household finances. 

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