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The death of a spouse or life partner is a life-changing event, and grief is a personal, unique experience for the surviving spouse. Amidst feelings of tremendous loss which can take both an emotional and physical toll, there are certain legal and financial steps that are necessary to take to begin organizing your spouse’s estate. Private Ocean works with clients in partnership with the estate attorney and CPA to guide them with estate distributions.

Here are some immediate, shorter, and longer-term financial planning steps to take in the event your spouse passes away:

Immediate Steps

  • Call the estate attorney who drafted your trust and other estate documents to start the estate distribution process:
    • Review next steps based on your spouse’s will, trust, titling, and beneficiary designations
    • File documents with the county of residence, and determine if you need to file documents change property ownership
  • Request multiple certified copies of the death certificate (10 copies are typically sufficient); Social Security, your life insurance carrier, and other financial institutions will require them
  • Call Social Security to file for survivor benefits – the representative will be able to calculate the precise benefits available based on your spouse’s earnings record. If applicable, monthly family benefits apply to:
    • Surviving spouse caring for deceased’s child(ren) under age 16
    • Surviving child under age 18 (up to 19 if full-time high school student)
    • Maximum family benefit will be calculated based on your spouse’s earnings that were reported to Social Security – estimated maximum range is $4,517 -$5,420/mo and might be lower dependent on earnings
  • Notify disability and health insurance carriers
  • File claim with life insurance carrier and determine where the proceeds should be held
  • Notify your partner’s employer, if relevant

Shorter-term Steps

  • Assess your overall financial situation – income, expenses, assets & liabilities – and long-term projections
  • Notify your CPA
  • Explore refinancing on a mortgage if applicable
  • Notify property/casualty insurance carrier
  • Cancel credit cards in your spouse’s name
  • Transfer ongoing accounts and services to your name
  • Update your estate documents with estate attorney (Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Advance Health Care Directive), especially if your spouse was the primary beneficiary
  • Review and update beneficiaries on your IRA and any other financial accounts and insurance

Longer-term Steps

TransUnion P.O. Box 1000 Chester, PA 19022 1-800-916-8800
               Equifax P.O. Box 740241 Atlanta, GA 30374-0241 1-800-685-1111
               Experian P.O. Box 2104 Allen, TX 75013-0949 1-888-397-3742

Should you need guidance, please contact one of our advisors who can assist you.

Download the checklist here: Checklist: Steps to Take When Your Spouse Passes Away. 


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