Image of a woman who is getting her finances in order after the death of her spouse.

Financial checklist: 13 things to do when your spouse dies

You can never truly be prepared for the death of a spouse or partner. Your many decisions can be overwhelming at a time when you’re dealing with a flood of emotions.

“After a difficult loss, take time to grieve and be with family,” says Stanley Poorman, CFP®, financial professional with Principal®. “When you’re ready, let your financial, legal, and tax advisors help you through the process. Often they can handle many of the tasks for you, which helps you focus on the emotional and social aspects of your loss.”

If you don’t have a financial professional the following checklist can help. 

Want to keep track of your progress offline? Download a printable version of this checklist (PDF).

Photo of a PDF version of this webpage.

1. Call your attorney.

There are several legal and financial considerations once a loved one has passed. Work with your attorney to better understand the process and the laws within your state.

2. Contact the Social Security Administration.

Depending on circumstances, survivor benefits could be payable to you. This isn't something you can do online. To report a death or apply for benefits, call 800-772-1213, or visit your local Social Security office.  

3. Locate the will.

Generally, it’s filed with an attorney, or in a lockbox or safe deposit box. Contact the attorney for a reading and to settle the estate. 

4. Notify your spouse’s employer.

Find out about benefits due to beneficiaries. Check on retirement or pension plans. If you or your children were covered through your spouse’s medical insurance, ask about continuing coverage. Notify your employer, too, since death of a spouse may be a “life event” that could trigger benefit decisions.

5. Ask your spouse’s former employers.

Items to check on: life insurance policies, a pension, an old 401(k), or other benefits. 

6. Check with the Veteran’s Administration.

If your spouse served in the military, learn what benefits might be due to you.

7. Notify all insurance companies, including life and health.

Ask them to send claim forms and instructions (or online links.) It can take weeks to receive funds, so try to get started as soon as possible.

8. Change all property titles.

Remove your spouse’s name and update insurance policies, such as auto and homeowner’s.

Don't be afraid to ask for help during this difficult time.”

Stanley Poorman, CFP, financial professional with Principal

9. Change titles on all jointly-held bank, investment, and credit accounts.

Close accounts that were in your spouse’s name only or change the accountholder information.

10. Send a letter to all three major credit bureaus.

Get a copy of your spouse’s credit reports so you’re aware of all debts. (The three major credit bureaus are EquifaxExperian, and TransUnion.) Ask to have a notification in the credit report that says “Deceased—do not issue credit,” so new credit is isn't taken out in their name.

11. Notify your accountant/tax preparer.

Taxes for your spouse should be filed for the year of death, and any taxes should be paid. Since there could be complicated issues, it may be best to have a tax professional help you.

12. Call the financial aid office if you have a child in college.

Depending on the school and your financial situation, your child may qualify for more assistance.

13. Work with a financial professional.

A financial professional can help you update your financial plan based on benefits you’ve received, create a budget for your new income and expenses, revisit your retirement plan, and weigh any decisions about cashing out investments. If you don’t have a financial professional, we can help you find a financial professional in your area

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help during this difficult time,” Poorman says. “Family and friends can be a great resource to help you stay organized, especially if they’ve been through a loss themselves.”

What to do next

Insurance products issued by Principal National Life Insurance Co. (except in NY) and Principal Life Insurance Co. Securities and advisory products offered through Principal Securities, Inc., 800-247-1737, Member SIPC. Principal National, Principal Life and Principal Securities are members of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.