I’m Widowed – What Financial Decisions are First?
When newly widowed, your heart is in turmoil and your mind probably feels like mush. I pray these ideas about finances will help you focus on a few key areas. See my prior posts for information about preparing for the death of your spouse as well as decisions to follow up on after the death.
Home Ownership: For tax purposes you must obtain a certified appraisal of value effective on the date of your spouse’s passing. (My appraisal was done about four months after Jerry’s death, but dated as of the date of his death.) However, there’s no need to report the death to your mortgage company as long as your loan is being paid regularly. Reporting the death may raise a red flag, causing the lender to re-call the loan or have you re-apply as a newly single individual. Keep paying the bills and leave the paperwork alone.
Life insurance benefits: File for these, and notify current or former employers of your spouse’s death. You may learn your husband is owed a paycheck for unused vacation or sick time, or discover a pension that is owed to you.
Bank accounts and credit cards: What you do will depend on whether you are a joint signer on the account(s), whether you have a Living Trust, and your total assets at the time of death. I’ve listed two of many helpful websites that address some of these questions.
- Bank accounts may be off limits immediately after someone dies.
- Signing a dead person’s name on a check is a felony.
- Social Security can reclaim benefits that have been direct-deposited.
Vehicle Registration: Through the Department of Motor Vehicles, you can file for a transfer of auto ownership without probate no sooner than 40 days after the owner’s date of death. Check your state’s DMV requirements (google search “(Name of State) DMV”).
Social Security lump-sum death payment is a one-time payout (currently $255) for which you can apply within two years of your partner’s death. The online form is available at pdffiller.com/1153489-ssa-8pdf-Death-payment-form-Various-Fillable-Forms-ssa?gclid=CNO9u-OAvc8CFQ1rfgodFiYCDg. If you are over sixty years of age, you may also apply for Social Security survivors’ benefits. The Social Security Administration website (ssa.gov/pgm/links_survivor.htm) is easily navigated and contains helpful information.
A reputable, qualified financial consultant or trusted friend can help identify your assets and liabilities, and determine whether you need to make any immediate changes in your living situation. (It is a good idea not to move for at least a year unless it is absolutely necessary.) Some financial consultants will provide a free assessment consultation even if you don’t invest with them. Ask trusted friends or your CPA for recommendations.
Many local community or senior centers provide resources to help learn how to balance a checkbook, prepare your tax return, etc.
If you need food or shelter, LOVE INC. coordinates the resources of local churches to provide help. Contact loveinc.org.
Most important, rely on our faithful God. One of my friends, a nurse, had helped her husband in a significant business endeavor. He passed away shortly before Jerry did. Bonnie transitioned into handling much of the responsibility her husband had carried. While learning from others, she kept praying, “God, I’m in way over my head. Please direct me. Help!” He opened doors and gave her wisdom … and the business is growing!
“But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3, NLT