Simply Money: Immediate financial steps a widow or widower should take

Question: Carla in Clermont County: My father just passed away, leaving my mother a widow. What financial steps should she (and my family) take now that she’s on her own? 

A: We’re deeply sorry for your family’s loss. Our first piece of advice is that your mother shouldn’t rush into anymajorfinancial decisions at this time. Grief can cloud judgement. The only money-related issues that should be addressed right now are immediate ones, such as paying bills. 

Speaking of bills, she should also get as organized as possible (this is something you could help with if she’s not feeling up to it). This means gathering any type of banking and retirement account statements, credit card statements, financial documents and policies, car and home titles, birth and marriage certificates, and passwords. She should also change any accounts that were solely in your father’s name to her name and close any unnecessary accounts and memberships (ex: phone line, gym membership, email, social media accounts, etc.). If your mother (or you) discovers any sort of surprise debts that need paid off, she should not pay them yet – instead, have her consult her attorney immediately. 

Assuming your mother had your father listed as a beneficiary on any financial accounts, she needs to update those as well. If your father was still working, she should check with his employer to ask about unpaid salary and bonuses, accrued vacation and sick days, retirement plan details, and pension details (if applicable). 

If your mother was the beneficiary of any of your father’s financial or retirement accounts, some sort of strategy needs to be eventually developed for transferring them to her name. If a life insurance policy is involved, contact the company to start the payout process.

And one more piece of advice: Request at least 20 certified copies of the death certificate from the funeral home. She’ll likely need all of these along the way.

Here’s The Simply Money Point: Losing a spouse is a life-altering moment, not just emotionally, but financially as well. Make sure your mother has a strong support team around her, which it sounds like she does, thanks to you. To help with the financial decisions, it can make sense to include a credentialed financial advisor and a tax professional on this team as well.