When your spouse passes away, you may feel overwhelmed with handling the necessary details to settle his or her estate. From making funeral arrangements, to sharing the news of their death with family and friends, knowing exactly what to do when a loved one passes away is not easy. Read on to learn more information about what to do when your spouse dies and how A People’s Choice can help you handle the necessary legal details to settle their estate.

Checklist When Your Spouse Dies

If your spouse has recently died, below is a simple checklist you can reference to make sure several important tasks are not overlooked:

  1. Arrange for organ donation.
  2. Contact immediate family and friends.
  3. Consider funeral preparations (for a veteran inquire about special arrangements) and order several certified copies of the death certificate.
  4. Secure all personal property belonging to your spouse.
  5. Notify the local Social Security office.
  6. Look into employment benefits.
  7. Stop health insurance coverage
  8. Notify life insurance companies and file life insurance claims.
  9. Make a list of important bills, contact financial advisors to obtain beneficiary information and notify mortgage companies and banks.
  10. Close credit card and other charge accounts that are only in your spouse’s name. Take your spouse’s name off joint cards and accounts. Don’t forget to notify credit reporting agencies to reduce the chance of identity theft.
  11. Contact a tax preparer to discuss estate taxes.

What Not To Do When Your Spouse Dies

When a spouse dies, it can be a stressful transition for the surviving widow or widower. The pressure of settling the personal affairs and estate of a deceased spouse and reorganizing finances can be very overwhelming. Sometimes this life changing event can trigger a surviving spouse to make irrational decisions on matters that should be saved for later. There are several things a surviving spouse should not do until time has passed and the pain of losing their spouse has settled.

  • Don’t be pressured by family or friends to give your spouse’s possessions away. Allow enough time to pass so that you can make clear-headed decisions about what is important to keep and what is not.
  • Don’t impulsively spend money. Buying things will not lessen your pain or shorten the time for grieving. Also, remember that during this time, you may be especially vulnerable to pressure from salespeople to buy things you do not need.  Unfortunately, you may discover that you have substantially less money to live on than you did when your spouse was living, so save major purchases for later.
  • Don’t make plans to move from your current home until you can make this decision based on thoughtful reason and not emotion. You may feel you immediately want to move closer to children or other family. Wait to make this decision until you have had time to think about what your plans are and, more importantly, have completed the grieving process.
  • Don’t loan money or gift money to family or friends without having a solid grasp on what your future financial situation is. It is important that a surviving spouse take time to review their present and future financial needs and obligations. This review may require consulting with a financial advisor or other professional or other family members.

Important Matters To Save For Later

When your spouse dies, here are 4 important matters you will want to calendar for later on, between 1 to 4 months following your spouse’s death.

  1. You will need to determine what legal processes may need to be done to change over existing assets to your name alone. Contact a legal professional to discuss probating your spouse’s estate. If proper estate planning has not been done, the surviving spouse may need to file a spousal property petition to make sure that the community property is transferred solely to the surviving spouse’s name. If you and your spouse had a trust, you may need to address the death of a co-trustee and perform other trust administration duties.
  2. Review your real estate holdings. Often couples hold real property in both spouse’s names or in a living trust. When a spouse dies, their name will need to be removed from title to the real property.
  3. Revise wills and other estate documents. Since your spouse has died, you will want to make sure that you have revised estate plans in order. Often we name our spouse in our estate documents. You will need to decide who you want to handle your estate upon your passing since your spouse will no longer be able to handle that role.
  4. Preserve your remaining assets. Losing a spouse can often have a severe impact on the surviving spouse’s overall finances. It may be wise to get financial advice to make sure you can do everything possible to keep your previous lifestyle without having to make drastic changes.

Life Changing Questions When Your Spouse Dies

How Much Social Security Do You Get When Your Spouse Dies?

The amount of social security you will receive upon your spouse’s death depends on his/her average lifetime earnings. The higher the earnings are, the higher their Social Security retirement benefits will be. A surviving spouse will receive full benefits at full retirement age for survivors or reduced benefits as early as 60. A surviving spouse can begin receiving benefits as early as age 50 if he/she is disabled and the disability started before or within seven years of his/her spouse’s death. Benefits for a widow or widower may be affected by several other factors such as if they are eligible for their own social security retirement benefits or if they later remarry.  For example, according to the Social Security Administration’s web site, If a person receives benefits as a surviving spouse, they can later on switch to their own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes they are eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits and their Social Security benefit rate is higher than their benefit as a widow or widower. In many cases, a surviving spouse can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and, later, when they reach full retirement age, can switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.

If you are a surviving spouse,  you should immediately schedule an appointment with your local Social Security office to determine what benefits you may be entitled to and to start the application process.

When your spouse dies do you get their pension?

There are two types of defined benefit plans: single life benefit and joint and survivor benefit. Single life benefits consist of monthly payments based on your spouse’s lifetime. A joint and survivor benefit plan provides a monthly payment based on the surviving spouse’s lifetime. You will receive your spouse’s pension if he/she choose the joint and survivor benefit option.

When your spouse dies are you responsible for their debt?

If your spouse passed away and has outstanding debts, you may be liable for them. If you shared the credit card debt (joint credit card), you will still be obligated to pay. If your spouse opened a credit card in his/her own name, you may also be liable for the debt. Because California is a community property state, you could end up being responsible for the credit card debt. It does not matter whose name is on the bill. A creditor can sue the surviving spouse and get a judgment for the debt. Typically, the decedent’s assets will be used to pay any of his/her outstanding debts.  

Be careful when dealing with credit card companies looking to collect outstanding debts. The credit card company will attempt to collect money from any possible source. Company representatives may say anything to make you feel obligated to pay the debt.

Contact A People’s Choice for help. Our compassionate staff has over 35 years of experience, and can help you handle any necessary legal paperwork to administer your spouse’s estate. Call us today at 800-747-2780.

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