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Loss of a Spouse

Following the emotional shock of losing a spouse, how do you wrap up his or her financial matters?

3 Tips for Beginning to Address Financial Matters

The loss of a spouse is layered with difficulties and unwelcome tasks that must be done. Dealing with personal grief, comforting family members, and handling funeral or memorial arrangements, are among the immediate challenges. At the same time, locating and understanding will and trust documents, confirming who has authority over the estate, and beginning to get a handle on financial matters, should also be important priorities following the death of a family member. The tips below highlight only a few of the key steps that may be helpful in beginning to settle the estate.

Tip 1: Seek help from trusted sources

Confirming who has authority over the estate should be a top priority.

Consult with your attorney, your tax advisor, and your financial advisor to discuss the documents, deadlines, and procedures necessary to finalize your spouse’s financial matters. Depending on the complexity, you may want to engage these professionals to help you through the coming months, or years.

Tip 2: 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 gather important personal documents. If you are trying to make a list of assets, but aren’t sure where to start, a recent tax return can help with identifying bank and brokerage accounts, properties, or other assets and liabilities.

Additionally, you or the executor should:

  • Locate your spouse’s will and trusts. The will names an executor, which can be an individual (such as family member or friend) or an institution (such as a bank). The executor (and trustee if trusts have been executed) will review the documents with the estate planning attorney, who will guide them during the settlement process.
  • Order 10 to 20 death certificates. The funeral home can help obtain the copies needed to file for insurance and benefits claims, transferring assets, and closing bank, credit card, and other accounts.
  • Apply for a taxpayer ID number. The executor should apply for a taxpayer ID number for the estate using IRS Form SS-4, to be used on tax returns, bank and brokerage accounts, and other documents filed concerning the estate.
  • Notify Social Security. If your spouse was receiving benefits, they will stop, but you will want to determine what benefits you are eligible for as a surviving spouse.
  • Contact your spouse’s current or former employers. They may have information on life insurance policies, health insurance coverage, employer or union death benefits, and pension plan and retirement plan benefits.
  • Look for other important documents. Beneficiary designations, insurance policies, real estate deeds, vehicle titles, prenuptial agreements, or divorce decrees may also be needed as part of the process of settling financial matters.

Tip 3: Prioritize matters that will benefit from immediate attention

It’s important to monitor the deceased’s deposit and credit card accounts—in particular, look for automatic payments or charges that should be discontinued, deferred, or handled from other resources. The attorney can guide you in determining which financial obligations take priority.

It can also make sense to promptly address jointly held assets, file life insurance benefit claims, and submit the documents needed to gain control of assets for which you are named as a beneficiary.

Remember, you are not alone throughout this process. Working with knowledgeable advisors and trusted individuals can help you navigate this difficult time.

Next steps

  • Reach out to trusted professionals to help you understand your immediate financial needs, finalize your spouse’s financial matters, and thoughtfully consider your own long-term financial plans.
  • Begin to compile information about property, accounts, liabilities, and other obligations.
  • Ask your legal, tax, and financial advisors for informational resources to guide you through the process. Take the time you need to make decisions comfortably.
  • Make it a priority to take care of your own emotional needs and your personal health.
  • Review your own planning documents and revise them as needed. Start with the documents that protect you during your lifetime, such as your health care directive, power of attorney, and living trust.

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.