The loss of a spouse can be an incredibly challenging life event. Your senior loved one will be in mourning and possibly not feeling up to settling their partner’s affairs. At the very least, they could use some help (even if they are too proud to ask outright). You could step in and offer your assistance to be compassionate and supporting—say by helping them organize their home, finances, and future.
Here’s an overview of what typically needs to be done after a death and some suggestions on how you could help, courtesy of SilverSage.
First, it’s a good idea to gain an overview of everything that needs to be done. Some things need to be done immediately, while others can wait a few days, weeks, or longer. Making a to-do list will help you to stay on track:
1. Immediate Tasks
Here are a few tasks that you typically need to take care of immediately after someone dies:
- Obtain a Pronouncement of Death: You receive the declaration of death from the hospital, other institution, or a certified medical professional. You need this paperwork to apply for the death certificate later.
- Inform Friends, Family, and Employers: You can send out a mass text or email to friends, family, and acquaintances to let them know of your loved one’s passing. Contacting the employer will inform you of employer-based insurance, due paychecks, 401(k), or other benefits.
- Make Funeral Arrangements: Look for paperwork for a prepaid burial, if applicable. Otherwise, you will need to pay for it yourself. Look for funeral homes nearby and research prices before picking one.
2. Two Weeks and Later
Below are some tasks that can wait until a couple of weeks have passed:
- Obtain a Death Certificate: You can apply for a death certificate at the funeral home or with a vital statistics office in your state. You will need to hand over several copies to various agencies. Get a dozen to be safe.
- Manage the Mail: If the deceased wasn’t living with a loved one, then their mail will need to be forwarded to a suitable address. The mail will contain critical information about their financial status, due creditors, bills, subscriptions, and more.
- Execute the Will: Your deceased loved one may have a will and an executor. You should contact the executor for the settlement. If not, there may be a probate process in court (you will have to do the paperwork) through which the judge will distribute their assets.
- File Taxes: You may need to file a final tax return for the deceased. You can get in touch with the CPA if they have one. They should also be able to advise you on related financial matters.
- Make an Asset Inventory: The probate court may require you to prepare an inventory of the deceased’s possessions like properties, cars, furniture, and jewelry. Doing so regardless will give you an overview of their financial condition, which will help you make future decisions.
- Find and Cancel Subscriptions: You will want to cancel subscriptions for cell phones, magazines, and streaming services. Other bills like mortgages and utilities are typically taken care of when the estate is settled.
- Inform the Government and Key Institutions: You will need to contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) office for eligible benefits or to stop incoming checks. You can contact the deceased’s bank or similar to notify them of the death and have their funds released to you. You can contact the life insurance company to make claims on policies. You will also want to close out credit card accounts and terminate insurance policies.
3. Watch out for Fraud
Identity theft is a major concern. According to Empathy, the recently deceased are a favorite target of thieves. To prevent identity theft, make sure the deceased’s mail is being forwarded to you. Also, contact a major credit bureau (TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax) to inform them of the death. Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license, voter registration, and passport. Last, don’t include any personal information in the deceased’s obituary.
You may need to help your surviving loved one take stock of their finances and lend a helping hand as needed. Here are some important considerations they may need to make at this time:
The death of a spouse often represents a major loss of income. The surviving spouse may be entitled to some benefits (like life insurance and unclaimed funds). It’s a good idea to calculate the exact inflow of funds and what that may mean for your loved one’s lifestyle. Take a look at retirement accounts, mortgages, loans, home values, and more.
If there were joint subscriptions, services, mortgages, and debts, the surviving spouse will be taking over. You may want to assist them with creating a budget. Debt.org offers suggestions on how to cut back on unnecessary expenses.
3. Medical Bills
In some cases, there may be medical bills to contend with for the surviving spouse. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to get in touch with health insurance or medical billing experts. Your loved one might be able to negotiate costs with their health insurance provider.
Finally, some long-term decisions may need to be made about the deceased’s estate and the surviving spouse’s future:
1. Clearing the Home and Personal Items
Eventually, the surviving spouse will have to sort through the deceased’s personal possessions, be they mementos, photographs, keepsakes, or clothes. The house may need to be cleared and put in order. There may be an estate sale involved, too.
2. Selling Their Home and Relocating
Your loved one may want to sell their home—because they want to free up liquidity to help meet expenses or because they don’t want to live in that house with all the shared memories anymore. In such cases, they may need your help with the sale of the house as well as the relocation (or downsizing). Being organized about the home sale will allow you to get the biggest payout. Some steps to consider are finding a real estate agent, making repairs, filling out seller disclosures, and marketing the house. You can use an online real estate value finder to calculate the possible valuation.
3. Selling Their Business
The deceased may have owned a business—independently or jointly with their spouse. The surviving spouse may now wish to retire or just have the business sold off. You can help with this. First, get a professional business valuation to get an objective and unbiased idea of the business’s value. The valuation should include all business assets, including real estate and any inventory. Then, market the sale, find buyers, and work with a good lawyer to finalize the sale.
The paperwork—and legwork—to settle someone’s affairs can take up to a year, and it’s not a one-person job. Your assistance—whether you help with basic paperwork, estate planning, clearing their home, or selling their business—will make a big difference. Don’t forget to watch out for your loved one’s mental health. If they’re struggling, you can and should seek professional support.
SilverSage believes in the wisdom that comes from experience and works to impart helpful advice to patients, families, and facilities. Call 423-815-1605 for more information.