What To Do When Your Spouse Dies


The following people and places should be called as soon as possible after your spouse’s death:

1.    Immediate family.
2.    Friends and relatives.
3.    Hospital or organ bank, if you want to make anatomical gifts.  If your spouse named a specific organization in a will or Uniform Donor Card to receive an organ or tissue donation, contact that organization.
4.    Funeral Home.  Make an appointment to discuss funeral arrangements.
5.    Business associates of your spouse.  If your spouse died before completing work for a client or customer, notify the person your spouse would recommend to complete the work. 
6.    Person holding your spouse’s power of attorney for property.
7.    Personal Representative named in your spouse’s will.

You can wait a few days before calling these people and places:

1.    A lawyer experienced in probating estates.
2.    The trustee of any trust benefiting your spouse (including IRAs and self-employed retirement plans).  If your spouse was a trustee of a trust, the co-trustee or successor trustee should be notified of your spouse’s death.
3.    The personnel department of your spouse’s current employer and any former employers that had retirement plans.  Have them send you any wages, vacation pay, sick leave pay, and other compensation they owed your spouse and any death benefits payable to you (e.g., life insurance policy or death benefits from a retirement plan).
4.    Labor union, if your spouse belonged to a union.  Determine whether it provides any death benefits.
5.    Social Security office.  If you have not been receiving Social Security benefits, you should bring your Social Security number, your spouse’s Social Security number, your birth certificate, your marriage license, your spouse’s most recent W-2 or self-employment tax return, and your checkbook or passbook (if you want your benefits deposited directly into your account).  Bring your children’s birth certificates and Social Security numbers if they are entitled to benefits.
6.    Insurance agent.   Obtain the forms that have to be filed to collect life insurance proceeds, change insurance policies to your name (if not already in your name), and schedule an appointment to discuss the adequacy of your insurance.  Ask your agent whether any portion of the last premium paid for the life insurance policy and any health insurance policy covering your spouse will be reimbursed to you.
7.    Bank.  Put accounts you co-owned with your  spouse into your own name.  If you have no checking account in your own name, open one.  If your spouse was receiving any direct deposit checks (e.g., Social Security), instruct the bank to return the checks to their sender.  If you do not have your own safe deposit box, you should rent one.  Ask your bank whether it provides any death benefits (e.g., life insurance or insurance to pay off your mortgage or other loans).
8.    Veteran’s Administration, if your spouse was a veteran.  The VA can provide help by paying funeral and burial expenses.  You and your children may also be entitled to monthly benefits.

Other people and places that should be called within the first month of your spouse’s death:

1.    Credit card companies.  Credit cards issued solely in your spouse’s name should be destroyed immediately.   Notify credit card companies of your spouse’s death and tell them who will pay amounts owed.  You may continue using credit cards that you and your spouse both were authorized to use, but the credit card company may ask you to fill out a new application and may reduce your line of credit.  If your spouse purchased credit card insurance, the outstanding balance will be cancelled at your spouse’s death.  Check whether the credit card company provides any death benefits.
2.    Utility companies.  If bills were addressed to your spouse, you may want to tell the companies to change their billing.  If you are a woman and have been using your husband’s last name, you may not want to change your telephone billing and listing.  Many women do not want it known that they are living alone.  Some people recommend that women use the first letter of their first name in their telephone listing, but use of the first letter has become a signal that the person listed is a woman.
3.    State department of motor vehicles.   If you co-owned a car with your spouse, contact your state’s department of motor vehicles and ask for the forms you will need to transfer vehicle title into your name alone.
4.    Real estate tax department.  If you co-owned your home with your spouse and property tax bills have been addressed to your spouse, contact the department and have your name substituted.   That way, bills and refund checks will be sent to you, not your spouse.
5.    Stockbroker (or transfer agent) and mutual fund companies.  Have them transfer stocks and bonds co-owned with your spouse into your name.
6.    College financial aid offices, if your children are in college.  Because of your spouse’s death, your children may qualify for financial aid (or additional financial aid).
7.    Health club.  If your spouse belonged to a health club, contact the club and ask for a refund of dues that have been paid in advance.  
8.    Magazines.  If you are not interested in certain magazines your spouse was receiving, you should contact the magazine to cancel and try to get a refund.

 You may want to wait until after you have made funeral arrangements before calling people, other than members of your immediate family and close friends.  That way you won’t have to make a second phone call to give them information about the funeral.  Be sure to write down information about funeral arrangements and keep that information by the phone.  Don’t rely on your memory.

Don’t hesitate to ask people to make calls for you.  Most people will welcome the opportunity to be helpful.

The passing of a loved one can cause conflict within a family.  Our legal team is prepared to work with all parties to resolve these issues with respect and integrity.  Our legal advisors have expertise in after death tax planning, the settlement of estates and trusts, administration of wills, management of Decedent’s estates, and resolving tax disputes.

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Published May 8, 2020

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