The death of a spouse always has the same impact: emotional devastation and turmoil within the family. The one thing you don't need, along with this emotional upheaval, would be the added burden of the surviving spouse being "in the dark" about the family finances.
Take Control of Your Life
- The first step that is a crucial but very often overlooked one, is to learn all you can about your financial matters while your spouse is alive. You should be acquainted with your spouse's financial advisor, so that you will have a comfortable, trusting work relationship.
- The second step is to know where all your financial records and papers are located. Make a list of all assets, liabilities, important names and phone numbers. Your spouse may own life insurance policies through work, a professional club, or even an alumni association. After the death of your spouse, you will need to go through these papers and contact the insurer. At that time, you should send a short letter stating that your spouse is deceased (and the date it occurred) and ask them to send you all life insurance proceeds, payable to the beneficiary listed for all of your policies. In addition, you should write a similar letter applying for pension benefits to every employer for whom your spouse ever worked.
- Step number three: Plan an investment strategy for the short run now. Make sure that your life insurance beneficiary designations are in order.
- Another important step after a death is to contact your bank(s) and credit card issuers to request the proper forms for changing your joint loans and cards into your name only. This is a necessary step toward clarifying or establishing a credit history of your own.
- Apply to Social Security for your widow or widower benefits. You are entitled to receive 100% of your spouse's benefit if you wait until age 65 to collect. However, you may withdraw benefits as early as age 60 (or any age if you have children under age 16 that live with you), but these early withdrawals will be at reduced benefit levels.
Plan for your future now, while it may be less stressful to do so.