Financial tips for widows - What to do after losing a spouse

Losing a spouse is an emotionally overwhelming experience, often bringing many financial challenges. Achieving financial independence might not be the immediate priority during this difficult time, but it is crucial for your long-term security and peace of mind.

This article will provide valuable tips for achieving financial independence after losing your spouse.

3 Financial Challenges Widows Face After The Loss Of Spouse

The initial hours and days after losing a spouse can be incredibly overwhelming. While the emotional turmoil might be the foremost concern, specific immediate tasks and long-term preparations are crucial for the forthcoming journey.

1. Planning for Children's Education Expenses

Jonathan Merry, Founder of Moneyzine, said one of the pressing financial challenges that widows often face is supporting their children's education. It's a big deal, especially if the family previously relied on dual incomes or the deceased spouse was the primary breadwinner.

To navigate this, it's crucial to have a financial plan tailored specifically to meet educational expenses. This could be setting aside a dedicated account, like a 529 plan if you're in the U.S., which is specifically designed for educational savings and offers tax advantages.

Also, it’s worth exploring scholarship opportunities and financial aid early on. These can be invaluable resources in offsetting some of the hefty costs.

Moreover, widows shouldn't shy away from consulting with a financial advisor. They can provide targeted strategies that might be obscure but are effective. Given that education is an investment for your children’s future, it's crucial to manage this expense smartly.

2. Navigating Social Security After Loss

Steven Wright, Co-Founder and Chief Editor of Lifestyle to the MAX, said One financial challenge widows face in the U.S. is the loss of Social Security benefits their deceased spouse received.

This can be a significant loss of income for many widows, mainly if they were relying on their spouse's Social Security benefits as their primary source of income.

To overcome this challenge, widows can explore options such as applying for survivor benefits from the Social Security Administration, which may provide them with a portion of their deceased spouse's benefits.

3. Addressing the Gender Pay Gap Challenge

Axel Hernborg, Founder and CEO, Tripplo American women earn 83 cents on the dollar compared to American men. Research also indicates that this trend has existed for most of a century. In the United States, the gender pay gap is now illegal. However, many women still experience pay cuts due to their gender.

Pay disparities don't just hinder women during their working years, either. If their lifetime earnings are lower, their retirement savings accounts may have less money.

Moreover, lower wages at work translate into lower Social Security and pension benefits. As a result, women must work harder to save for retirement and avoid long-term poverty.

Financial planning tips for widows within a few days

1. Follow Medical & Healthcare Directives

The first few days and hours after losing a spouse might be the most trying, even though no one ever "gets over" the loss. You're probably in shock, and reality might not appear to make sense. However, you must quickly finish a few crucial things to prepare for what comes next.

Verify your spouse's organ donation status by looking up their driver's license, and abide by any advanced healthcare directives they may have had in place, such as a living will or healthcare proxy.

You should not hesitate to ask the hospital, nursing home, hospice, or any other medical coordinator you work with to walk you through the procedure.

In case your spouse passed away at home, dial the closest hospital. The service is often free, and competent employees can answer your questions regarding what to do next.

2. Make Funeral Home Arrangements

Going straight to the funeral home is something I strongly warn against. This is due to a subject I'll return to multiple times: you are not emotionally positioned to make any significant decisions right now.

You are far more likely to make judgments that will take time and money overkill if you visit the funeral parlor while still reeling from your shock. Instead, head home right away to collect your thoughts.

Having a reliable friend or family member nearby to chat with as you consider your options is also advisable.

3. Communicate the Loss: Notify close relatives, friends, and your spouse's employer.

Call your immediate relatives and close friends, or get a reliable individual to do it for you. Surrounding yourself with people who can understand your sadness and support one another during these early hours is crucial. If possible, make plans for these people to meet in person to exchange ideas, plans, and supportive remarks.

Inform your spouse's employer of their passing (if appropriate). Set up a time for a friend or relative to pick up your spouse's belongings from the office.

From the very beginning to the first year: Inventory phase

Make arrangements for bereavement leave by contacting your employer (if applicable). If you have kids in school, you should also contact the administration to make plans for their excused absence, at the very least until the wake.

At this point, you might be prepared to contact the funeral home and start setting up the service and other details. It would be beneficial to bring along a reliable friend or family member.

If your spouse provided detailed instructions regarding the service or another, you should discuss these issues with the funeral home staff and, if necessary, your clergy or another spiritual advisor.

If your spouse served in the military, you should find out if any special accommodations are possible. Either you can contact the Department of Veteran Affairs ( or the funeral home to get some of this information. The official military discharge document or your spouse's Veteran's DD-214 must be presented.

You should also contact them for assistance with additional particular preparations if your spouse is a member of a fraternal organization.

Important: You will need your spouse's death certificate in the future for your financial accounts and other documentation; request that the funeral home obtain 12–15 copies of it.

Start informing other family members and friends of the death of a spouse's passing by using the help of a reliable friend or family member. Notify them as well if your spouse has ever belonged to any clubs or organizations.

Request assistance from friends and family members for daily duties like grocery shopping and food preparation. Unbelievably, doing this will aid in their grief and free up their energy to care for themselves.

Take a few financial steps following the Memorial or Funeral

1. Inform the Social Security office in your area about your spouse's passing. The funeral home can also take care of this for you in many circumstances.

However, you can also visit to find more details. Your dependent children may be eligible for benefits if you have them. You can potentially be eligible for benefits as a surviving spouse. You should enquire about potential spousal benefits, especially if you're a woman who has never held a job outside the home.

2. Cancel your spouse's health insurance by getting in touch with your health insurance agent (or perhaps the human resources division of the insurance company of your spouse's employer).

3. Reviewing your personal coverage and that of any dependents is also a good idea at this time. However, you should generally refrain from making any significant adjustments because the grieving process is still in its early stages. That's probably all you need to worry about for tax time now, as long as you and any dependents have coverage.

4. Track down the genuine will—not a copy—of your spouse. Speak with your attorney to arrange for the will to be filed for probate. Ask your lawyer whether your state has filing deadlines within ten days of a death. Get the right legal advice.

You should start talking about the plans for the future of the business if your spouse owned it or was a partner in it. These conversations should be had with your lawyer, financial advisors, and possibly your accountant.

Financial planning tips to follow after 30–60 days of your spouse's passing

Create a Budget

Developing a detailed budget is a crucial financial step in achieving financial independence. It helps you understand your income, expenses, and how much you need to live comfortably.

  • Consider cutting unnecessary expenses and redirecting funds towards savings and investments.
  • Compile an accurate list of all your monthly expenses. Include your mortgage or rent, car payment, insurance premiums (health, auto, life), utilities, internet service, credit cards, and any other recurring monthly expenses.

Pay the obligations that are due the earliest first to avoid late fines. If your spouse's death resulted in significant medical bills, put this money aside temporarily in a safe location.

Monitor your bank accounts in financial institutions.

Visit a bank. Plan to keep your joint account open for a full year if you and your spouse have one. If your lawyer has advised you to set up an estate account, follow their instructions.

  • Regularly review and update your calendar. You get forgetful when you are grieving, so try not to rely too heavily on your memory at this time.
  • Record significant dates, deadlines, contact names, and phone/email information in a notebook.
  • Take notes during meetings with your banker, lawyer, financial advisor, and other professionals so that you may refer to them afterward.

Plan for Retirement

If you haven't already, focus on building a secure retirement plan. Maximize contributions to retirement accounts like a 401(k) or an IRA to ensure financial independence in your later years.

Consider working with a financial advisor to create a retirement plan tailored to your needs. Assemble your papers. This information includes:

  • Your spouse's last will and testament,
  • Death certificate (in all copies),
  • Marriage license,
  • Birth certificates,
  • Spouse's Social Security number,
  • Insurance policies (especially life insurance policies),
  • Most recent bank and investment account statements, spouse's IRA and 401K documentation (if applicable),
  • Most recent tax return,
  • Vehicle titles,
  • Loan documents, and possibly other things.

Important: Consult a certified financial planner to resolve this problem.

Start your survivor benefits application. If your spouse served in the military, they may include:

  • Veteran's benefits,
  • Social Security, and
  • Pension benefits

If your spouse's company offers a pension. To be ready for any appointments or application processes, phone beforehand or check the website.

Each organization will have different criteria.

  • You should also contact the providers of any life insurance plans your spouse may have, whether they were obtained via their place of employment or on the open market. I'll need a copy of the death certificate, so please give it.
  • The alternatives you have for collecting the proceeds, whether in a flat sum or paid annually over several years, should also be discussed.

You can get advice from a financial professional, accountant, or financial counselor on the best options for your situation.

3-6 Months after the Death of Your Spouse

  1. Make a worksheet for income and expenses.
  2. Use a spreadsheet tool, such as Excel, to organize your finances if you are familiar with it.
  3. You should be aware of every month's outgoing and incoming money to feel more in control.
  4. Understanding your cash flow will also help you feel much less stressed. Simple math is about all the required paperwork, yet the advantages to your mental health are immeasurable.
  5. Additionally, you must keep track of the balances of all your bank investment and brokerage accounts and any retirement funds that you or your spouse may own.

Consult a financial advisor.

  1. Schedule a meeting with your financial advisor.
  2. Collaborate with your advisor to analyze and stabilize your cash flow over the coming months using the financial worksheets you have prepared.
  3. You shouldn't commit to or make any long-term financial plans at this time.

Remember that your current objective is to identify and understand your monthly resources and needs. The long-term plan will be developed later.

Additionally, you might want to ask your financial advisor to help you update your financial records, joint accounts, and insurance accounts to reflect your present situation. Now is the moment to raise any queries you may have regarding your accounts or financial data.

Create an emergency fund.

During this changeover period, you'll want to have enough cash on hand to cover unforeseen expenses.

  • Maintaining 3-6 months' worth of money in a liquid account for usage in an emergency is a dire necessity.
  • Request that all utility accounts, including those for internet and phone service, be changed to remove your spouse's name.
  • Request that your spouse's phone be removed from the account and request that your mobile phone provider reduce your monthly charges accordingly.

Manage debt

Assess your existing debts and create a plan to pay them off systematically. Prioritize high-interest debts like credit cards and consider debt consolidation or refinancing options to reduce interest costs. You can also explore debt settlement options to reduce your outstanding balance.

Managing debt will free up more of your income for savings and investments. Alert your spouse's creditors and close any credit card accounts that are just in his or her name.

It is recommended to send duplicate death certificates to Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, the three main credit reporting companies.

This will notify them to flag your deceased spouse's information and make it more challenging for identity thieves to utilize your deceased spouse's personal information for illegal means.

Over the following four to six months, you should monitor your spouse's credit history to ensure no fraud or identity theft has occurred.

  • Contact your local tax authority to determine if your state provides a widow's property tax exemption.
  • You'll need this information from your local tax authorities because it differs from state to state laws.
  • Give yourself some me-time. You might want to schedule regular meetings with a dependable friend or therapist.

As you continue to navigate your grief journey, you can ask for their opinion on how you come across, as well as guidance, resources, and emotional support.

6–9 months following your spouse's passing

Prepare a will

Check in with your lawyer regarding the will's probation. In some situations, your spouse will have appointed you as the will's executor, meaning you must see that its provisions are followed.

In other situations, the executor will be another reliable individual or organization, like a trust department or a law office.

To ensure that the proceeds are handled most advantageously, you should stay informed as the process develops, and you might want to engage your financial advisor and accountant as well.

You should also speak with your lawyer about whether your own will needs to be amended or expanded in light of your current financial situation.

9–12 months following the passing of your spouse

Start by coordinating your financial future with your most significant goals and priorities with the assistance of your financial counselor. Your long-term financial strategy should consider the future you have already started to picture for yourself and your loved ones.

Your financial advisor will be able to assist you in creating particular strategies and financial portfolios that consider your current and future priorities. With the help of your advisor, discuss any "financial education" needs you may have and create a strategy for gaining the information you require to feel more in control.

Follow up with your lawyer, accountant, or other tax professional regarding the estate settlement and your tax documents. You might also want to consult your financial advisor to ensure that your spouse's final asset distribution and estate disposal align with the long-term plans you are creating.

Consider Income Sources

Explore potential income sources, such as part-time work, rental income, or freelance opportunities, to compensate for your lost income. These additional revenue streams provide financial stability and help cover expenses as you get an economic sense and work towards independence.

Stay Informed and Educated

Financial markets and regulations change over time. Stay informed about the latest developments in the financial world, and continue to educate yourself about investment strategies, tax and estate planning attorneys, and other relevant topics.

Lean on Your Support System

Don't hesitate to reach out to friends, family, or support groups for emotional, social, and financial support during this challenging period. They can provide guidance, advice, and a listening ear when needed.

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