When a spouse dies it is devastating. Anyone who has dealt with the death of a spouse can surely attest to the pure agony it is. There are many different life circumstances that may slightly adjust what happens when a spouse dies. If the spouse was dealing with a slow progressing terminal illness there may be more expectation of death and proper preparation for the aftermath of said passing. If the spouse dies unexpectedly at a younger age there may be less preparation before hand.
There are many ways to prepare financially in case of tragedy but it is not something that everyone has preplanned for. Even if you have preplanned on some level it can be a struggle to make ends meet after the funeral, especially if the deceased was the main breadwinner.
Dealing with the death of a spouse can already put you into a dark space of grief and turmoil. All of your energy is spent on processing your grief. There is little energy left to give to figure out how to manage all the finances. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when life takes a turn and you must manage all the finances yourself.
Delay Big Decisions
The first one is simply to not make any major decisions, but especially financial, in the first six months. Take time to let everything settle in. Unfortunately people may come calling trying to prey on you in your vulnerable state. Things can be especially stressful if the deceased spouse was the one who managed the finances and or was the main source of income. The best thing to do right away is to take time to yourself and deal with the grief you are experiencing. There are some financial issues that will need immediate action but save any big decisions for at least six months down the road.
If you intend on selling the house or giving any money out to the surviving children, these decisions can wait until that six month wait period has ended.
Focus on the Most Immediate Bills
Immediately you will have to pay your bills for credit cards, car loans, utilities, mortgage and the like. Make sure to pay for these on time because they could incur a late fee. If you do incur any late fees do not be afraid to call the institution and ask for the fees to be removed based on your circumstances. You would be surprised how often people are willing to work with you.
Remove Unnecessary Costs
The next thing to do to remove any expenses associated with your late spouse. Cancel any magazines or subscriptions that your spouse may have had. Also, look into whether it is in your best interest to cancel any memberships or insurance company premiums. Don’t forget to collect on life insurance policies you have paid into. Find out if your spouse had any pension benefits and 401(K). You can work with a trusted financial advisor to determine what to do with any retirement benefits now available to you. But keep in mind that even major decisions about retirement money should be delayed for at least 6 months.
Additional Items to Consider
If you were receiving health care coverage from your spouse’s employer, you may be able to stay on it for up to 36 months with COBRA coverage. The Department of Labor has some helpful information regarding COBRA coverage here. Depending on your age, you can also claim your spouse’s Social Security benefits. You may be able to start drawing from your spouse’s social security benefits as early as age 60. Of course, we recommend working with a trusted financial advisor on this as well.
We hope these tips will help you as you wade through the process of figuring out your new life without your spouse. Surround yourself with trusted advisors as well as friends and family to support you. Don’t be afraid to get a second or even third opinion when it comes to dealing with your finances.
Let yourself grieve one of the most important relationships in your life. If you’re feeling like you need a trusted person to talk through your grief, consider joining one of our grief groups. Our Chaplain Julia Rajtar would be a helpful resource as you navigate your grieving process.