Losing a spouse can disrupt everything. When you commit to sharing your life with someone else, it’s expected that you’ll be together for decades. Those future plans are cut short when a spouse dies and your entire future changes. In order to find a new path, you need time to readjust and you need to find a way to continue on your own. Being a surviving spouse without help, guidance, or support can be overwhelming—especially if you and your partner weren’t able to have discussions about money and make plans around your shared finances in advance. Here are some important steps to take as you undergo this tough transition after the loss of a spouse and start building a strategy for a future without your partner.
After losing a spouse, managing your finances, understandably, may not be a priority but they will come to the forefront sooner than you expect. Assessing all the financial details involving a partner can be complex, but the degree of complexity is unique to every relationship. Those who kept their finances independent may not have a lot to reorganize after losing someone. But if you’ve built wealth, savings, or debt with your partner over time and shared everything, you’ll now have to go over every account and will likely need some expert help. If your partner was the one managing the household overhead and balancing the family finances, stepping in can be a big transition. The sooner you get started, though, the better.
Understanding your partner’s financial obligations and assets can be a small or large task, depending on what you’re aware of and what information is readily available. Ideally, you’ll have a will or trust that outlines these details. If not, you’ll have to do some searching and find what you can through lawyers and financial advisors, safe deposit boxes, and personal files. The goal is to gather as much information as you can so you’re aware of, and prepared to manage, all of your loved one’s financial and legal responsibilities. This includes a variety of assets and debts you might not be aware of, like credit card accounts, workplace benefits, and estate items. Try to gather everything you can to give yourself a transparent look at what your partner has left behind.
This type of unexpected transition is even more challenging when children are involved. The grieving process can be incredibly difficult when a child loses a loved one and the surviving parent is trying to cope with the loss as well. A core area of concentration for the New York Life Foundation has been to help grieving children and their families by providing access to resources for children as they grieve and guidance for parents and other concerned adults. Children can also experience a strong sense of guilt over a loss, and they often worry that they’ll forget the family member who’s no longer in their life. As a parent, you don’t have to handle all of your child’s needs on your own; you just need to make sure you have the right resources to move forward together.
This type of situation is a primary reason people have life insurance. So now is the time to use it. If your partner had a life insurance policy, you should connect with his or her financial professional. If you’re the beneficiary of your partner’s policy, the financial professional will guide you through the steps to receive your benefit. New York Life makes it easy for you to start a claim online.
If your partner did not have life insurance, you’ll still want to review all financial records and the insurance history in your partner’s name. And look into the possibility of any employer-provided life insurance or retirement funds you may not have been aware of. If you have a life insurance policy with your partner as the beneficiary, you’ll now want to change your beneficiary and see if you should adjust your policy details.
There are other details that you’ll have to address and resolve at some point after the loss of your partner—from small things like transferring names on your utility bills, to larger matters like transferring ownership of real estate assets and arranging a funeral. Take the time you need to prioritize what’s most urgent. Do what you can, tackling the most urgent priorities first. And don’t be reluctant to ask for help with these tasks.
As you get organized and become more familiar with managing your family finances, shift your focus to retirement and start working toward a strategy that will provide you with comfort and stability. This can include choosing a new savings vehicle to contribute to that will grow in value over time. You may be surprised at how different your financial strategies could look without your partner.