3 Tips for Finalizing Your Spouse’s Finances

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help — turn to trusted family, friends, and professionals for assistance.
  • Gather all legal and financial documents that are joint or in your spouse’s name only.
  • Organize the documents, identify the people/agencies to contact, and prioritize accounts needing attention.

Seek help from trusted sources

The death of a husband or wife can be an overwhelming experience, compounded by the financial matters you need to consider during this emotional time. Often it’s a challenge to decide what to do first. Here are three tips to help you through the process.

Jim McKown, Vice President of High Net Worth Planning at Wells Fargo Advisors, says locating and understanding will and trust documents and confirming who has authority over the estate should be a top priority following the death of a family member. So is commemorating their life. Ask your closest friends or relatives to help you research arrangements for the funeral and interment ceremony to help ease your stress.

Confirming who has authority over the estate should be a top priority following the death of a family member.

You should also consult with your attorney, tax advisor, and Financial Advisor to discuss the documents, deadlines, and procedures necessary to finalize your spouse’s financial matters. Depending on the complexity of your spouse’s financial affairs, you may want to engage them to help you through the coming months (or years).

Gather important documents

Even if you’re not in charge of your spouse’s estate, you’ll probably have a role in helping the executor designated to settle your loved one’s finances gather important personal documents (such as prenuptial and child support agreements). “Your loved one’s most recent tax return can help you identify brokerage, dividend-yielding stocks, properties, or other assets your spouse held,” says McKown. Additionally, we suggest you do the following:

An inforgraphic that says Three tips for finalizing your spouse's finances. 1. Seek help from trusted sources 2. Gather important documents 3. Prioritize account requiring immediate attention
  • Order 10 to 20 death certificates. The funeral home can help you obtain the copies you’ll need to file for insurance and benefits claims, transferring assets, and closing bank and credit card accounts.
  • Locate your spouse’s will, if there is one. The will names a personal representative, or executor, which can be an individual (such as family member or friend) or and institution (a bank, for example). The personal representative is responsible for either filing the will in probate court or having an attorney do it, if the state requires.
  • Apply for a taxpayer ID number. To avoid a potential IRS fine, the personal representative should apply for a taxpayer ID number for the estate using IRS Form SS–4. The number should be used on tax returns, bank and brokerage statements, and other documents filed concerning the estate.
  • Notify Social Security if your spouse was receiving benefits. If you don’t stop benefit payments, you could face a difficult repayment process.
  • Deal with any retirement benefits and insurance policies. Contact your spouse’s current or former employers for information on life insurance policies, health insurance coverage, union death benefits, and pension plan and retirement plan benefits.

Prioritize accounts requiring immediate attention

McKown suggests taking direct action or working with the executor of the estate to help ensure the proper handling of brokerage and other financial accounts. Additionally, it is important to monitor the deceased’s deposit and credit card accounts — in particular, look for automatic charges that you will need to stop. The executor can guide you in determining which financial obligations take priority.

Remember, you are not alone throughout this process. Working with knowledgeable advisors and trusted individuals can help you navigate this difficult time to ensure your loved one’s finances are protected for the future.

Next steps

  • Reach out to trusted individuals and professionals to help you finalize your spouse’s financial matters.
  • Ask your legal, tax, and financial advisors for informational resources to guide you through the process.
  • Begin to gather the required documents needed to finalize you spouse’s estate.

Wells Fargo Advisors does not provide legal or tax advice. Any estate plan should be reviewed by an attorney who specializes in estate planning and is licensed to practice law in your state.

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