Immediate Checklist for Widows, Part II

When a Spouse, Partner or Significant Other Dies

Continuing the Immediate Checklist for Widows with Part II (if you missed Part I, you can read it here):

Pets. In the ensuing storm of emotion, pets can be overlooked. Make sure they are fed and have water. If they are not managed properly, locate a pet boarding facility to temporarily take care of them. If, for some reason, the surviving spouse is not to take care of a pet for the long-term, the deceased spouse’s Last Will may have instructions on who is to take care of their pet.

Business Operations. If the decedent owned, operated or was a key person in a business, contact the business partners or senior management to investigate what it will take to keep the business running if this is a priority and goal. If a business succession plan exists, put it in action. If not, ask senior management or current employees what tasks or payments need completed to continue business operations. Let employees know who they can turn to for answers and whether the goal is to shut down operations or keep the business running. 

Documents, items and information needed in the next 72 hours:

  • Last Will of the deceased spouse. May contain more immediate tasks such as organ donation, autopsy, cremation, burial instructions.
  • Medical Directives (Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will) of the deceased. One of these may contain organ donation, autopsy, cremation or burial instructions.
  • Deceased person’s wallet, credit cards, ID, drivers license, phone, computer(s), car and house keys, and garage door opener (you don’t want an unauthorized person to use the deceased’s credit card or have access to the house, car or valuables).
  • Birth Certificates for both spouses and their children.
  • Social Security cards or numbers for both spouses and their children.
  • Marriage certificate or license and divorce decree (from previous marriage).
  • Death certificates of any immediate family member who previously passed away.
  • Windows password for the deceased spouse’s computer (desktop, laptop). Some computers use facial recognition instead of a password. In this case, there should be an option to click and use an alternate log-in such as a PIN or password.
  • Log-in credentials (User ID, password, PIN, and perhaps answers to security questions) for any online bank or other financial account that is needed in the short-term. If a password is not known, sometimes clicking on Forgot Password (or similar wording) will initiate an email to the deceased spouse’s email which contains a link to reset the password.
  • Home security system code. Document this code and consider changing it for safety reasons. Cleaning services, neighbors and others might have the code. It’s best to start with a fresh code.
  • If the home has a safe, locate it, the combination, and document the contents.
  • Document the User ID and password for the email account(s) owned by the deceased spouse. Some emails like gmail might be set up for Two-Factor Authentication which requires a second layer of protection before allowing the user to log in. This TFA might require a numerical text sent to a cellphone (usually the user’s cellphone) or the use of an authenticator app.
  • If death occurred due to a criminal act, malpractice by medical personnel, or mysterious or unknown circumstances, an autopsy may be required or desired.

Funeral, mortuary, burial or cremation arrangements. Contact and coordinate with a funeral home, mortuary and religious leader. Depending on the level of pre-planning accomplished around these issues, this task could be very straightforward (most or all decisions already made and documented in a Last Will, Healthcare Power of Attorney or other document) or potentially filled with family disagreements and indecision. Usually the more pre-planning done, the better for everyone. Pre-planning can get into the details such as preparation of the obituary, where and what type of service, and music selection to play at the funeral or ceremony. If a military burial is an option, contact Veterans Affairs to coordinate. Depending on travel arrangements, need for autopsy and other factors, the funeral might take place within one week of death or it could be delayed for one or more months depending on circumstances (out of country, lengthy autopsy or the availability of family members). 

Ability to pay bills. Make sure the surviving spouse has access to the primary checking account, understands the level of cash in the account and knows how to use the check book and debit card (some don’t, so don’t assume they do). She should also understand how the checking account gets replenished (Social Security payments, pension payments, automatic distributions from investment accounts).

Health Insurance. The important issue is making sure premiums are paid and the coverage is up-to-date. If it’s on autopay, that information is important to know, especially if the payment is made through a credit card that is about to get terminated due to the death. If payments are behind because of turmoil over the last few months, it’s time to catch up on those past due payments.

Appointments, prescriptions, meetings, pending projects, trips, airfare, hotels. Cancel any pending medical, dental or other appointments. Automatic delivery of prescriptions should be stopped. Any pending projects (repairs, remodel, purchase of an RV, etc.) must be evaluated to determine whether to continue or stop the activity. Upcoming trips that involve airfare, hotel and rental car reservations need addressed.

Trustee duties. If the deceased spouse was the trustee of a trust, contact the co-trustee. If he was the sole trustee, inform the beneficiaries and attorney providing legal services for the trust.

Board of Directors. If the deceased spouse was on a corporate or nonprofit board, inform the chairperson of the board.

Safe deposit box. Locate the safe deposit box, if there is one, by contacting banks where the deceased spouse banked. Inventory the contents and collect the Last Will if stored in the box. The bank manager may or may not release other documents and contents to the appropriate person (person listed on the safe deposit box or listed in the Last Will as personal representative).  If a safe deposit box does not exist, a home safe might. Ask the surviving spouse for details on the location and combination of the home safe.

Car/Truck. Make sure the surviving spouse’s vehicle(s) are in safe driving condition. Check fluid levels, tire pressure, current registration/inspection and auto insurance. Take it for a test drive. Make sure no dashboard caution lights are on.  

Fraud and Exploitation. An obituary or news article can spark the interest of people intent to do harm. Knowing that a new widow is in emotional distress can result in attempts to defraud the widow by claiming that unpaid bills are due, projects were commissioned by the deceased spouse and now need paid, an insurance policy is ready to pay but the last few missed premiums are due first, and so on. Knowing that a funeral ceremony is scheduled for 10am on the 15th of this month, criminals know the home should be empty. The address is easy to confirm through internet searches and confirmation from neighbors. Robberies do take place during this vulnerable time. For unpaid items, require an invoice be sent…don’t just send a check or give a credit card number to cover an expense you haven’t confirmed. Ask your attorney or trusted family member to check the validity of the person or company making the claim. Also, it’s good practice to ask your attorney if certain invoices or bills should be paid (maybe the deceased spouse was going through a bankruptcy, or perhaps he was the only person legally liable for certain expenses).

Keep a Journal. Over the next year or two, especially in the beginning, you will meet with and talk to many people regarding the death of your spouse. From doctors to funeral directors to utility companies and financial, tax and legal professionals, the amount of information, details, next steps, telephone numbers and appointment dates and times will be overwhelming. To keep track of this information, especially during times of bereavement, a journal can help tremendously. You may also want to keep a separate journal for personal thoughts and feelings as you go through this journey.

There’s a lot to do in this Immediate Checklist and some items require more time and energy than others. If you focus on the entire list, you will get overwhelmed; focus on one or two items at a time and let other people help you.

Want the entire Immediate Checklist for Widows? Just click on the picture below to take you directly to the Immediate Checklist for Widows page of our Site.

Next Series of Posts:  Interested in a thorough process to evaluate your current or a potential financial advisor? From financial product salesmen to competent, professional advisors, many use the same job titles, but the quality and level of service can be drastically different. Knowing how to properly evaluate an advisor can save you time, energy, money and worry. Look for my next post where I unveil the Financial Advisor Evaluation and Selection Tool.

Jim Schwartz is a Scottsdale, AZ fee-only financial planner with an expertise and interest in financial planning and education for widows and widowers.  Years of working with and advising widows, widowers, and surviving partners has provided a wealth of experience and knowledge in this complicated financial arena.  He is particularly skilled in his ability to guide his clients through difficult decisions while ensuring the stability of their finances. 

Contact Jim: If you would like to contact Jim directly, without submitting a public comment below, feel free to use the Contact page.

Jim Schwartz, CFP®, RICP®
[email protected]
Blogger, Widowed Community Financial Blog
Twitter, @WidComm, @JimSchwartzCFP

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