Death of a spouse |

Death of a spouse

Danielle Howard
Personal Finance

I have had three widows come through my office this year. Death is inevitable, but the timing and circumstances are usually profoundly painful. People handle grief differently, but it must take top priority as you try to be brave and face tomorrow. Grieving takes time. It can lessen over time but will always become part of your life. Only you can decide on what your process will look like. Make sure you surround yourself with the support of family and friends who understand this, and pay no attention to those who think otherwise. It is all right to seek help. Family and friends are willing to listen and provide tangible support with child care, cooking, errands and needed diversions. Spiritual guidance from a pastor, rabbi or other person of faith can provide much-needed comfort. You are not alone, and together with your entrusted community, the healing will begin.

Many financial decisions should not be made immediately after your loved one passes. Refrain from making any substantial financial gifts or major decisions about where you are going to live for at least a year if possible. However, some things warrant addressing as soon as possible. Gather all of your financial documents such as marriage and birth certificates, life-insurance policies, and your spouse’s Social Security and veteran’s benefit statements. Contact your spouse’s employer or their human-resources office to file for any benefits. Get at least a dozen copies of the death certificate from the funeral director. Contact your attorney to assist you in the estate-settlement process. Get ahold of Social Security to find out what benefits are available to you. Contact your insurance agent for assistance in filing the death claim. Close any credit cards held solely in your spouse’s name. Pay any bills that are currently due. Have a friend or family member alongside you as you do these things, as your mind is blurry and it may be hard to focus.

The following steps can be done over time but should be timely. Retitle assets that were held jointly into your name. Update information with credit cards, insurances and other financial institutions. Make sure you contact the three credit bureaus to protect you from identity theft. Start digging to see if there may be insurance coverage that you didn’t know about with professional organizations or unions. If your home has appreciated and was titled jointly, get a new appraisal. You will receive a step up in cost basis for inheriting your spouse’s share. Work with your attorney and financial advisers to determine what debts and/or taxes must be paid. Discuss with your financial adviser the most advantageous way to take benefits. This will include Social Security, pensions and retirement accounts.

After the healing takes hold, at your own pace, you can start taking a fresh look at everything. You will be able to think about your personal goals moving forward. You will want to review your own estate plan and make sure beneficiary designations are updated on life insurance, retirement accounts and employee benefit programs. You can create a new financial plan that will give you peace of mind as you move forward with this season of life.

It is vitally important to have conversations and plan as much as possible before a death happens. Do you have an updated will or estate plan? Do you have a living will, power of medical directive or power of attorney? Where do you keep important paperwork and passwords? What financial tools do you have that will sustain your family if you are not present? Do you need life insurance? Do you need to review beneficiary designations? Bring in the appropriate professionals to assist you in walking through your planning process. These conversations may be uncomfortable, but they are powerfully important and can be intentionally meaningful.

On a much lighter note, I would like to invite the ladies to join me for a day on the river! We will embark on a “Financial Flow” journey through Glenwood Canyon on Aug. 18. It will be a day to increase your financial prowess and power as we look at the similes between your rafting experience and your financial life. Head to my website at for additional information.

Danielle Howard is a certified financial planner practitioner. Wealth by Design LLC, her financial-life-planning office, is at 23300 Two Rivers Road in Basalt. She helps clients build financial lives to facilitate their passions and purpose. Visit her at, or call 970-927-3909. Advisory services are offered through Lighthouse Financial LLC, a registered investment adviser. Securities are offered through Cambridge Investment Research Inc., a broker, dealer and member of FINRA/SIPC. Cambridge and Wealth by Design are not affiliated.