"Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted."  Matthew 5:4


Action List After Death of Spouse


Immediate Action:

  • Locate will or letter of instruction in regard to funeral wishes
  • Make funeral arrangements
  • Contact local papers as to policy on obituary and decide on obituary notice
  • Notify relatives and friends
  • If necessary, open an individual checking account in survivor's name


Locate Important Papers:

  • Death certificate (10-20 copies)
  • Insurance policies
  • Marriage license (5 copies)
  • Birth certificates of deceased and surviving spouse
  • Naturalization papers
  • Adoption papers
  • Will and trust documents (need originals)
  • Veteran's discharge papers
  • Social Security number and benefits,
    * If a parent of dependent children, get several copies of their birth certificates
  • Most recent tax returns
  • Business buy-sell and partnership agreements

Contact an attorney and file for probate of will:

  • Establish an estate bank account

Apply for benefits:

  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Retirement plan benefits
  • Veteran's benefits
  • Other employee benefits
    * e.g., check on workman's compensation benefits
  • Social Security benefits

Change titles and ownership:

  • House
  • Insurance policies
  • Automobiles
  • Your will
  • Credit cards
    * Check credit cards as to potential hidden insurance policies
  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks, bonds, other investments
  • Safe-deposit boxes

Complete Notifications of Death:


Review finances:

  • Immediate liquidity questions
  • Review financial aid qualifications if children in college
  • Determine appropriateness of disclaiming part/all of bequests

File and pay applicable taxes:

  • Income taxes
    * Joint return for year in which death occurred and claim personal exemption for late Spouse May file joint return as a surviving spouse for 2 years after the death if specific conditions are met.
    * Include income earned by descendent up to time of death
  • Estate's income tax return
    * Include income earned by descendent but not received before death; known as “income in respect of descendent."
    * Valuation of estate determined as of date of death unless alternative valuation is elected. Date is generally six months after death and not changeable.

Common mistakes:

  • Making major life decisions, such as sale of home, in first year after death
  • Purchasing annuities and other investments in first year
  • "Thinking if her husband did it in a particular way, it must be right." (White, p.197)
  • "Being unwilling to take any investment risk." (White, 198)
  • "Giving loans to children." (White, 198)
  • "Meeting a new man and letting him take charge." (White, 198)
  • "Being unable to understand the reality of her new situation and thus failing to cut expenses." (White, 198)
  • Being taken in by scams and con artists
    * Phony bills and loans
    * Attempts by real estate agents, insurance agents, and investment advisors to bag a new client
  • Listening to well meaning friends and relatives

Sources and Resources:


Martin, R., and D. Martin, The Survival Guide for Women. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1991.


"On Being Alone," Publication #d150, American Assoc., of Retired Persons, Fulfillment Dept., 601 E. St., N.W., Washington, DC 20049, 202-434-2277


Pond, J., The New Century Family Money Book, NY: Dell, 1993


White, S., What Every Woman Should Know About Her Husband's Money. NY: Turtle Bay Books, 1992.