Editor’s note: This is the first article in an ongoing series about dealing with being a new widow or widower.
Becoming a widow or widower is an emotional time. Shock can give way to deep sadness and the realization all those tasks once shared or taken care of by the spouse now falls squarely on the remaining partner.
Various tasks need to be taken care of in the weeks and months following the loss of a spouse. It can be overwhelming for people who have never needed to pay the electric bill much less figure out a 401K or decide how to invest.
Roan Capital Partners advises newly widowed spouses not to make major decisions for the first few months. They should avoid any big decisions for a while.
“Don’t buy a house or don’t sell a house,” said Joy Garland, a certified fund specialist, certified income specialist and managing partner of Roan Capital. “Don’t move or buy a car. Any big decisions that are big financially as well as emotionally, you shouldn’t do anything like that at least for a year.”
Garland said the reason is because they are all going to be emotionally based decisions. And the widow or widower could regret the decision down the line once the shock has dissipated.
Mental health experts believe it takes approximately two years for a widow or widower to absorb what has happened. It also takes that amount of time before they can reasonably make major decisions regarding finances.
There are some steps widows can take in the initial few months after a spouse passes away. These steps can help get the financial house in order.
1. Order the death certificate
A widow needs to collect up to 20 copies of the death certificate right after the funeral. The death certificate helps a widow claim funds from pension plans, Social Security, life insurance, annuities, bank accounts, and more.
A death certificate will help make the process of transferring all assets to the spouse much easier. It usually takes two weeks for everything to transfer.
“We try to make sure things continue just as they were, so you don’t have to worry about a disruption,” Garland said.
2. Collect any documents
There are certain types of documents needed in ordered to claim death benefits. Some of those include bank statements, marriage certificate, and birth certificate.
If needed, contact an attorney to review the spouse’s will. If there were no listed beneficiaries or no will, the widow may need to go to probate court to claim the benefits left behind by the spouse.
3. Make contact
It is important within the first month for a widow to start contacting different organizations and informing them of the spouse’s passing. Widows should contact their insurance agent, investment advisor, the spouse’s employer or former employer, and the social security office.
These organizations will let the widow know the next steps that need to be taken to continue providing services. It is also important to update beneficiaries to any policies which need it.