Dealing with the death of a spouse or partner is a devastating and stressful experience. The number of tasks that demand attention during this difficult time can seem overwhelming, and clients in this unfortunate situation often come to our wealth advisors with questions about which financial actions they need to take first.
Fortunately, there are ways to ease this process. Certain items need to be addressed as soon as possible; here are 6 tasks that should be prioritized after a spouse or partner passes away.
1. Identify and Collect All Financial Documents and Statements
First, you'll need to collect a number of financial documents so your wealth advisor can help guide you through the process of finalizing your spouse's financial affairs. These include:
Life insurance policies
Lists of assets
Cost basis for all assets, including portfolio investments such as stocks and mutual funds; real estate; and business ownership
Estate planning documents, such as wills and trusts
Deeds and titles
Social security and veterans' benefits statements
Birth, marriage and death certificates
Bank and brokerage statements
2. Review Your Estate Planning Strategies with Your Attorney
Meet with your estate planning attorney to start the estate settlement process. Depending on how the estate was set up, you may need to consider factors such as splitting a trust. You'll also need to review the estate planning terms and start considering which changes need to be made.
3. Set Up a Meeting With Your Family Wealth Advisor
Your financial advisor will help you complete important tasks such as:
Re-registering and re-titling jointly held assets and accounts into a single name
Inheriting retirement accounts, such as IRAs
Update your beneficiaries
4. Contact Your CPA to Discuss Tax Implications
Sit down with your CPA to create an estate tax plan. Your tax professional can answer questions about probate, tax burden and returns, your tax filing status and the tax implications of making gifts. In most cases, you'll need to file federal estate tax returns within nine months of the death.
5. Consider Social Security Issues
You'll want to notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of the death as soon as possible; in some cases, the funeral director performs this task. Surviving family members may be eligible for death benefits, including a one-time lump sum and/or monthly benefits.
You'll also need to ensure that monthly distributions are ceased. If your spouse received benefits through direct deposit, contact the bank and request that they return any future distributions directly to the Social Security Administration. Unfortunately, benefits cease for the month in which your spouse passed away; that means if they normally received their monthly on the first of the month, but they passed away on the 15th, you'll have to reimburse the difference.
6. Dealing with Services, Accounts and Utilities
If your spouse or partner had any services, bank accounts, utilities or subscriptions in their name, you'll need to contact the company to switch names on the account or cancel the service. Remember, many accounts may be managed electronically, so you may have to determine passwords and user names.
Losing a spouse can be an emotional and difficult time, but you don't have to go through it alone. If you have a good relationship with your financial advisor, they should be able to help you stay on track with your financial planning as you take the time you need to walk through the natural emotions and grieving process.