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Family Finances

Financial To-Do List for Surviving Spouses

Take these seven steps to take charge of money matters when your husband or wife passes away.


Pay bills. Don’t wait until the estate is settled to pay the mortgage, utilities and other bills, except for obligations owed only by your spouse, such as student loans or charges to a credit card in your spouse’s name only. In those cases, you may not be held responsible for repaying the debt.

See Also: Smart Financial Moves for Surviving Spouses

Check workplace benefits. If your spouse was working, find out about employer benefits the estate may be owed, such as life insurance, unpaid bonuses and vacation pay. If you had health insurance through your spouse’s employer, apply for continuation of coverage through COBRA.

File life insurance claims. Call your agent and, if your spouse was employed, the company’s human resources department. Also investigate whether your spouse had any other insurance. If you believe a policy exists but you can’t find it, contact MIB Solutions’ Policy Locator Service ( For a fee, it will track down the application for the policy.

Notify Social Security. Call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 to report your spouse’s death and check eligibility for survivor benefits, including those for children younger than 18.

Close credit card accounts that are in your spouse’s name only. Also take your spouse’s name off joint accounts, and retitle real estate and cars. Notify the major credit bureaus to prevent fraud.

Cancel your spouse’s driver’s license and passport. Also close social media accounts, and cancel subscriptions and memberships.

Update your estate plan. That includes reviewing beneficiaries, naming a guardian for minor children, and giving a trusted friend or relative your power of attorney and health care proxy.