Tips for the surviving spouse

When you lose your spouse, there are a number of things to deal with. What benefits are you entitled to? What kinds of expenses and payments are you now subject to? Where is my money coming from and where is it going? These are all questions that you should be asking yourself. The checklist below can help get you started on finding the answers.

  • Review your spouse's legal documents. This includes most recent will, trusts, and any other financial documents. Do this in order to identify how your spouse wanted assets distributed and any other financial obligations your spouse might have had like divorce settlements, child support, etc. Helpful Hint... To locate these documents check safe deposit box, personal files, or contact your legal professionals like attorney, accountant, or advisor.

  • Know about your spouse's financial assets and obligations. This includes checking, savings, and brokerage accounts, life insurance, pensions, and retirement plans. Obligations include mortgages, credit card debts, loans, etc. Helpful Hint... In order to identify assets or tax credits from previous tax periods you should check your spouse's tax returns for the previous year or two. Also, check your spouse's mail for 90 days to be sure you haven't overlooked anything.

  • Identify and review all insurance policies. Notify the insurance company of your spouse's death.

  • Review deeds and titles to real property. These properties include houses, cars, boats, etc. Deeds and other ownership documents might be required for transferring the properties. Helpful Hint... The Registry of Deeds and the Registry of Motor Vehicles in the state where the property is registered can inform you about the requirements for changing ownership.

  • Notify credit card companies of the death and cancel cards. Be sure to find out about any death benefits associated with the card, if any, and cancel other services and memberships, like cell phones, gym memberships, etc.

  • Visit to learn about Social Security. Find out which benefits are available to you. You can call (800) 772-1213 to discuss your personal situation with a representative.

  • Review copy of spouse's employee handbook. Here you should find details about employee benefits. Also meet with a company representative to discuss available benefits. Questions to Ask... Was my spouse due any unpaid bonuses, salary, or commission? What is the company's policy regarding medical coverage for survivors? Was my spouse covered by accidental death, travel insurance, or a group life policy?

  • Learn about your eligibility and enrollment for medical benefits. If you are over age 65 you are eligible for Medicare. Visit to learn more about your medical benefits.

  • Find out about military benefits. If your spouse was in the military, you and your children may be eligible to receive benefits. To learn more about military benefits visit the Web site for the Department of Veteran Affairs at

  • Determine your sources of income. Review all your accounts for the past 12 to 24 months. Separately identify each source and then determine how frequently it is received.

  • Look at your expenses. Review your expenses on a monthly basis, and then organize them into two lists, "indispensable" and "dispensable." This way if it becomes necessary to cut expenses it will be easier to decide which ones will go.

  • Compare income with expenses. If your income exceeds your expenses then you are in good shape. However, if you're spending more than you're receiving, you should take another look at your expenses list to decide how you should cut your spending.

  • Plan ahead. Once you know all about your spouse's finances it is time to plan for your financial future.

  • Keep separate monies separate. If your spouse maintained accounts as separate property, has separate property income, or has any other form of separate monies, accounts, investments, etc., do not mix any of these assets with your assets. If you have questions about this, ask your spouse's executor or personal representative.


This article is provided by New York Life for informational purposes only. Neither New York Life, AARP nor its affiliates provide tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. Please consult your own professional for advice specific to your circumstances.