While it's something we hope would never happen, losing a spouse becomes an unfortunate reality many people must face. While the emotional trauma is the first and hardest blow, an important next step is looking towards the future and assessing your financial situation. As a single person for the first time in years, there are several steps you should take in order to help you effectively manage your financial and household needs.
Locate important documents: Determine the location of key documents such as your will, trust documents, insurance policies, deeds, stock and bond certificates and bank and brokerage statements. By locating these documents, you will be able to identify where re-titling is required.
Re-title your property and financial accounts: Regardless of how you lose your spouse, you should contact your bank and brokerage firm to re-title your accounts and change beneficiaries if necessary. In the event of a death, you will need certified copies of the death certificate in order to change account and asset titles.
Update your beneficiary designations and estate plan: A simple review and update of beneficiary designations on your IRAs, retirement plans, employee benefits, annuity contracts and life insurance policies is as important as re-titling assets. In addition, have your attorney review your will carefully and make any necessary changes to ensure your current intentions are accurately reflected.
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If you haven't already done so, you may want to consider establishing a trust to allow for further instruction for the management and disbursement of your assets. Identify retirement money available to you: As a surviving spouse, you may be entitled to retirement assets and you may have a number of alternatives for taking possession or distribution of those assets. Check with a financial consultant for the most appropriate method.
Check your credit status: You'll want to get copies of your credit report and check it for any errors. If you don't already have a credit card, you should consider applying for one so you can start establishing a credit history.