Important tips for the surviving spouse.

When you are ready to move ahead, these tips can help keep your finances on firm ground.

When you lose your spouse, the emotions can be overwhelming. At times like these, we all take comfort in the cherished memories of those we’ve lost. But when it feels right, and with the support of the benefits left in place for us, we begin to look ahead.

When it comes to finances, the task can appear daunting. What benefits are you receiving? Will they be enough to cover your bills and other expenses? What’s the best way to manage both income and outflow? The checklist below can help get you started on finding the answers.

  1. Review your spouse’s legal documents. This includes the most recent will, trusts, and any other financial documents. This will enable you to identify how your spouse wanted assets distributed and any other financial obligations he or she might have had, like divorce settlements, child support, etc.
    • Helpful hint…
      To locate these documents, check the safe deposit box, the household fireproof safe, and personal files. Or contact your attorney, accountant, or advisor.
  2. Review your spouse’s financial assets and obligations. This includes checking, savings, and brokerage accounts; life insurance; pensions; and retirement plans. Obligations include mortgages, credit card debt, loans, etc.
    • Helpful hint…
      In order to identify assets or tax credits from previous tax periods, you should check your spouse’s tax returns for the previous year or two. Also, check your spouse’s mail for 90 days to make sure you haven't overlooked anything.
  3. Identify and review all insurance policies. Notify the insurance company of your spouse’s death. You can do this directly or your agent can help.
  4. Review deeds and titles to real property. These properties include houses, cars, boats, etc. Deeds and other ownership documents might be required for transferring the properties.
    • Helpful hint…
      The Registry of Deeds and the Registry of Motor Vehicles in the state where the property is registered can inform you about the requirements for changing ownership.
  5. Notify credit card companies of the death, and cancel cards. Be sure to find out about any death benefits associated with the card, and cancel other services and memberships, like cell phones, etc. Be especially aware of any automatic payments (e.g., gym membership) associated with a checking or credit card account.
  6. Visit to learn about Social Security. Find out what benefits are available to you. You can call (800) 772-1213 to discuss your personal situation with a representative.
  7. Visit to learn about your eligibility and enrollment for medical benefits. If you are over age 65, you are eligible for Medicare.
  8. Visit to understand your tax filing obligations. If you have a tax advisor, he or she will also be able to help.
  9. Review the spouse’s employee handbook. Here you should find details about employee benefits. Also, meet with a company representative to discuss available benefits.
    • Helpful hint…
      Be sure to ask…Was my spouse due any unpaid bonuses, salary, or commission? What is the company's policy regarding medical coverage for survivors? Was my spouse covered by accidental death, travel insurance, or a group life policy?
  10. Find out about military benefits. If your spouse was in the military, you and your children may be eligible to receive benefits. To learn more about military benefits, visit the website for the Department of Veteran Affairs at
  11. Determine your sources of income. Review all your accounts for the past 12 to 24 months. Separately identify each source and then determine how frequently it is received.
  12. Look at your expenses. Review your expenses on a monthly basis, and then organize them into two lists, “indispensable” and “dispensable.” This way, if it becomes necessary to cut expenses, it will be easier to decide which ones will go.
  13. Compare income with expenses. If your income exceeds your expenses, you are in good shape. If you're spending more than you’re receiving, however, you should take a close look at your expenses lists to decide how you should cut your spending.
  14. Keep separate property separate. If your spouse maintained accounts as separate property, has separate property income, or has any other form of separate money, accounts, investments, etc., do not mix any of these assets with your assets. If you have questions about this, ask your spouse’s executor or your probate lawyer.
  15. Plan ahead. Once you know all about your spouse’s finances, it is time to plan for your financial future.
  16. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. A trusted relative, professional advisor, or both can be helpful in sorting through the various financial decisions and keeping stress to a minimum during this difficult period. Your New York Life agent can help with any life insurance and retirement income questions you may have.

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