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Organizing Your Finances: Before and After a Personal Loss

The death of a spouse or life partner is one of the toughest events you can go through. Along with the emotional adjustment of continuing on without your best friend, there is additional stress involved in facing the relevant financial issues while you are still grieving. But there are things you can do now to help you through this difficult time. The following lists provide a framework for keeping your finances organized before and after a personal loss.

Preparing now to minimize stress later

  • Keep a list of insurance companies, policy numbers, and social security numbers on hand.
  • Store important documents—such as your marriage certificate, wills and trusts, and children's birth or adoption certificates—in a safe location for easy accessibility.
  • Ensure that each spouse has a credit card in his or her own name or that you have a joint account in both names.

During and after the loss

  • Notify others and seek advice. In addition to notifying your employer and your spouse's employer, be sure to contact the funeral director and your attorney, insurance professional, financial advisor, and accountant, so they can get started on paperwork and financial matters.
  • Obtain at least 10 certified copies of the death certificate, so you can file for various benefits and change the ownership of investments.
  • Continue to pay bills so you don't incur late fees.
  • Cancel unwanted club memberships and magazine subscriptions.
  • Retrieve your spouse's belongings from his or her workplace, and collect any salary, vacation, or sick pay owed to your spouse.
  • Check with your credit card, bank, and loan companies regarding eligible death benefits.
  • Change the ownership of bank and brokerage accounts.
  • Discuss what to do with IRAs and employer retirement plans with your financial advisor.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration to discuss eligibility for benefits.
  • Obtain tax identification numbers.
  • Talk with your attorney and accountant before transferring accounts or distributing assets, as you may or may not incur additional taxes at your spouse's death.
  • Take advantage of health insurance benefits, such as COBRA.

Addressing personal financial affairs
Remember, you may need to take some time after experiencing a loss before making major financial decisions. Be sure to have a trusted advisor look over any financial decisions you are considering and to ask as many questions as necessary during this stressful time.

2012 Commonwealth Financial Network