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Life After Loss: A Widow's To Do List

Losing a spouse is one of the hardest things you’ll ever go through.  As a new widow/widower there is suddenly a lot on your plate.  You’re dealing with grief, sadness, confusion, and countless other negative emotions.  You’re also likely dealing with a handful of other new responsibilities that up until now maybe didn’t seem so big.  Even mowing the lawn or finding someone to do it for you can feel like an overwhelming task.

Planning and paying for a funeral, taking over household chores and bills on your own, and doing it all while grieving the loss of the love of your life is a very difficult situation to navigate. If possible, don’t do it alone.  When your family, friends, and neighbors offer to help, accept it.  

The grieving process may never fully end.  Give yourself as much time as you need and when you are ready, here are seven financial things you’ll need to do when rebuilding your life after the death of a spouse

1. Request death certificates. Depending on how many accounts your spouse left behind and which ones require an original, you may want to request five or even ten original death certificates.  Requesting a copy later costs more. You’ll use the certificates to make your claims and begin transferring assets into your name.

2. Review beneficiary designations.  If your spouse had a retirement account (IRA, 401(k), 403(b), etc.) most likely you will be named the 100% primary beneficiary and these funds can pass on to you quite simply.   If your spouse named children, other family, or a trust as beneficiary, passing on funds on can take a bit more work.  What if no beneficiary was named?  These assets will need to go through the public probate process, which will be costly and time consuming.  We recommend hiring an attorney to help with this process depending on the size of the estate.

3. Process death claims.  You’ll probably want an advisor to help you with this.  Often times, investments and insurance policies have multiple claim options and determining which is best for your situation may require professional guidance. For example, you may be eligible for a lump sum, lifetime payments, or keeping the account and simply changing ownership.  A financial advisor can look at your financials and income needs to help you decide what payment method is most suitable and then process those respective requests.

4. Determine Taxability.  A Financial Advisor together with a CPA can help with this.  It’s important to determine what the cost basis of the assets are.  Do they qualify to be stepped up at time of death? If you or your spouse are older than 70.5 years old at his/her passing, you will want to work with an advisor to calculate your Required Minimum Distribution amounts for all retirement funds. If assets were left to the estate without a named beneficiary, a final estate tax return will need to be filed.  

5. Organize and review all of your new financials.  If you have a mortgage and your spouse’s income paid it, how will it be paid now?  If so, your inheritance may be able to cover it going forward. Are you eligible for Social Security and what are your payment options?  You’ll want to take a look at all fixed expenses compared to your new, possibly reduced income, and work with an Advisor to fill any potential income gaps.  Make sure to review your health insurance coverage and costs as well.

6. Update your legal documents and beneficiary designations. As you inherit your spouse’s accounts, you’ll have to choose a new beneficiary.  For accounts that are already yours, you won’t be required to change the beneficiary since no new paperwork has to be done, however, you should take the time to update these too.  If you leave your deceased spouse as beneficiary and you pass away, your heirs will then have to go through probate to claim the assets.  Now is a good time to update your will and trust or perhaps even draft new documents.  An Estate Attorney can offer advice on this.

7. Make other necessary changes.  If you can no longer sustain your lifestyle, you may need to make some adjustments.  Ask a Financial Advisor if you have enough saved or invested to maintain your lifestyle before your loss.  Even if you can, you may want to consider moving to a home that requires less work or maybe to a location that is closer to family.  It’s hard to make changes when dealing with loss, but often times it will be in your best interest for the long term.

We are so sorry for your loss.  We know losing a spouse can be the most difficult thing you’ve ever gone through.  Please know that if you choose to contact us for help, we will offer compassion and kindness as we navigate these new waters together.  We can be reached at 508-861-7550 or contact@scottadvisorygroup.com.  You can also submit an inquiry on our Contact Us page.

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