Coping with Loss: Financial Checklist and Other Considerations After the Passing of a Loved One

In this article:

Losing a spouse is one of the most challenging and impactful events a person can experience. Navigating a lifetime of shared decisions and responsibilities can feel daunting and even unmanageable. While Geller’s checklist is not a substitute for professional advice from your financial, tax, and legal advisors, we’ve created this checklist to help our clients address the areas that are likely to require their attention after the passing of their partner and broken those items down into three sections: immediate to-dos; how to get organized before acting; and notifying parties and adjusting plans for the future.   

Download the full checklist here.

Below is a summary of what’s included in the checklist.

After your loved one has passed, here are your immediate to-dos:

  1. Call your attorney, financial and tax advisors, CPA, and the executor of your spouse’s will; notify them about your spouse’s passing. Your advisors can help guide you through this process and even handle many of the tasks listed below.
  2. Obtain at least 12 certified copies of the death certificate. Copies of the death certificate are typically required before you can begin addressing any of your spouse’s assets. The funeral director can provide you with copies.
  3. Work with the funeral home on the obituary, services, and arrangements for your spouse.
  4. Notify your spouse’s employer, your employer, and if applicable, notify your child’s/children’s school(s). Your spouse’s employer can follow up with information about benefits to beneficiaries, as well as retirement plans, pension plans, and continuing medical insurance coverage. Your employer should also be notified; inquire about your bereavement benefits and if death of a spouse constitutes a “life event” that triggers benefits decisions.

Getting Organized before Acting

Before you begin notifying various parties, create a single file location that includes relevant documentation you’re likely to need. Remember, your advisory teams may be able to provide much of these items for you, so be sure to connect with them. For the comprehensive list of documentation, download the full checklist.

Additionally, now is a good time to make a list of recurring monthly bills and arrange for those bills to be paid for at least the next three. A trusted friend or advisor may be good individuals to ask.

Into Action: Notifying Parties about the Deceased, Gathering Information, Applying for Benefits, and Adjusting Plans for the Future

Remember, be sure to connect with your financial, tax, and legal advisors, as they can likely guide you through a number of the below steps—and in some cases, handle the outreach entirely.

  • Contact banks and investment accounts and transfer ownership.
  • Work with your lawyer to update your will and trust document(s), living will, and advance medical directive.
  • Review current insurance and ensure continuity of coverage; contact provider to make claims, or update or cancel policies that no longer apply.
  • If there is a business ownership interest, contact your attorney to begin conversations about succession/continuity planning.
  • Have your CPA file estate tax with the IRS.
  • Cancel any credit cards in your spouse’s name and have any cards with both names reissued in your name.
  • Open a new checking account in your name alone and transfer some assets from joint accounts. Be sure to maintain joint account for six months in case checks are paid to the deceased.
  • Call agencies to notify them of your spouse’s passing and inquire about and apply for benefits (Social Security, Medicare, etc.).
  • Call to notify the large credit agencies of your spouse’s death and obtain credit reports from TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.
  • Change the registration on any utilities billed in your spouse’s name.
  • Have your financial advisor or CPA withdraw any minimum distributions from IRAs.
  • Work with your financial advisor to review and update your financial plan and investment portfolio.
  • If information hasn’t already been delivered after your initial notification, follow up with your spouse’s employer and request information (see detailed checklist for complete list).
  • Review any planned travel and cancel any upcoming travel arrangements for your spouse; contact travel insurance providers.
  • Access any safe deposit boxes and retrieve contents for review and inventory.