Some Smaller Details
Review your will and make adjustments to reflect your new situation. You'll
probably need to change who will inherit your assets and you may need to decide
on a new executor. Change accounts and jointly held property into your name
including credit cards, deeds, etc. You do not need to go through the process of
applying for new, individual credit card accounts.
Death of a Spouse
The death of a spouse can be devastating. Sudden losses can be even harder.
If your spouse managed the majority of the financial responsibilities, even just
paying bills can seem overwhelming. But you can work your way through it. It is
Try not to make any long-term decisions right away. Take your time. Emotional
times are not the best times to make decisions.
Gathering the proper paperwork is the first step in settling your spouse's
affairs. Start with the following:
- Death Certificate The death certificate will be
needed for many financial procedures you will encounter. You should
request several copies from the funeral director or county health
- Insurance Policies These will help you determine
benefits you are entitled to.
- Marriage Certificate If you can't find your
marriage certificate, you can usually get a copy from the courthouse of
the county you were married in.
- Birth Certificates for Dependent Children.
- Certificate of Discharge from the Military If your
spouse was in the military, you may need his or her certificate of
discharge to collect benefits.
- The Deceased's Will
- Complete List of all Property
Many of the documents you need may be held in a safe deposit box. If you
can open this safe deposit box before your spouse's death, take out all the
contents of the box. Some states seal the boxes after a death, even if the box
is registered in both your names. If your spouse has already died and the box is
sealed, consult your attorney about getting court permission to access the box.
Get Your Finances In Order
If you receive a life insurance benefit, save that money. Put it in an
interest-bearing account such as a savings account or money market fund. But
keep it liquid. You may need it.
Make sure you have health insurance. Call your spouse's company to see if you're
still covered and for how long. If you're not, get medical insurance right away.
Use the paperwork you gathered to claim the following:
- Life Insurance Benefits Most likely, the company
will pay the proceeds directly to the named beneficiary in either lump
sum, fixed payments or as interest payments on a larger amount. It may
take several weeks for you to receive payments. If your spouse is named
as your beneficiary on your life insurance policy or retirement plans,
you should take this time to name another beneficiary.
- Social Security Widows are eligible for a $255
death payment designed to help pay for funeral costs. You may also be
eligible for survivor's benefits, depending on your age and if you have
any dependent children.
- Employee Benefits Your spouse may have had life
insurance, a 401(k) plan, vacation or sick pay, and other benefits to
which you're entitled. Contact the human resources director at your
spouse's workplace for a list of benefits. If your spouse was employed
by a large company, you will still be eligible for health insurance
under COBRA legislation for 18 months after your spouse's death.
- Veterans' Benefits If your spouse served in the
military, contact Veterans Affairs. You may be eligible for burial
expenses, money toward a plot or headstone, as well as disability
benefits if your spouse already was receiving such payments. Veterans
are also eligible for free burial in a national cemetery.
- Miscellaneous Benefits If your spouse belonged to a
credit union, a labor union, the American Legion, a college alumni
group, or other organizations, you may be eligible for insurance
coverage or assistance programs.
This is just a brief introduction to some of the tax issues facing you. Taxes
can be quite complicated and you should consult a professional tax advisor for
Within nine months, you are required to file an estate tax return if the assets
of the estate exceed the threshold for taxability. Your spouse's estate will not
be subject to estate taxes if its net worth is less than the current exclusion
amount for the year of death. That threshold will rise each year until the
complete repeal of the estate tax in 2010. Taxes, which can be as high as 50
percent, must be paid on any amount above the threshold amount. You also are
required to file annual income tax returns reporting any income earned by the
The Unlimited Marital Deduction allows you to avoid estate tax completely if
your spouse has left everything to you in his or her will and you are a U.S.
You must file a final federal and state income tax return for your spouse on
income earned that year up to the date of death. As with your return, this is
due by April 15th. You can file a joint return as long as you do not remarry
prior to the end of the year he or she died. If you have a child still at home,
you can use the joint tax rates to figure your income taxes for two additional