After the Shock
The death of a spouse can be a shock, even after a long illness. To find yourself suddenly without your "other half" is likely to be a drastic change affecting all aspects of your life — especially your finances. This is particularly true if your spouse provided the primary income. When you are more prepared to deal with the changes to your life, you may feel better about handling them.
Track Down Important Documents
If you already know where all your financial documents are -property deeds, insurance policies, military discharge papers, retirement and investment paperwork and loans-the first step may be a little smoother. Otherwise, you'll probably want to locate all the paperwork first, then put it in a safe place. You'll also need to have your marriage certificate and your spouse's birth certificate and Social Security card. When notifying your insurance company, financial institutions, creditors and Social Security of your spouse's death, you'll have to produce a certified copy of the death certificate, so you'll also need to have several copies of this on hand.
Take Time to Adjust Before You Act
For the first few months, you should consider refraining from making any major decisions regarding your finances. Your mental and emotional state will need some time to adjust to where you can think clearly. Then, if you don't already have service people in place, such as an attorney, financial planner and tax preparer, you'll probably be ready to start looking for professionals who can help you.
Learning How to Handle Daily Finances
Unless you're used to handling the household finances, budgeting income and expenses can be a good idea. You may find that you have to cut back on certain services, memberships and other discretionary expenses. Your financial planner can help you to calculate your net worth, which is the value of your assets minus your total debt. This information can help you to develop your spending and investment plans.
Planning for the Future
Now that you alone hold your family wealth, you will probably want to consider how you'll manage it for your heirs. Your advisor team of insurance agent, attorney, financial planner and tax preparer may be instrumental in helping you set up an estate plan that will provide for you now and for your heirs later. Your goals for the future, whether personal or financial, are smart to consider. Maybe you will want to take classes in personal finance and money management if you lack these skills. Depending on your situation, you might want to find a support group for people who have lost a spouse. This kind of group can be both a comfort and a resource as you move forward.