Nobody likes to think about losing a loved one, and often when it occurs, we have no idea where to turn.
If you are not prepared, the paperwork will hit you after your spouse's death in an apparently overhwelming deluge. It is tough to get through it even when you are prepared. A to-do list is prepared for you here.
1. Get a grip on your assets. Find out what you have to work with by gathering copies of your joint tax records for the past five years, records of both your husband's and your own retirement plans, all insurance policies, bank and brokerage accounts, and the deed to your house and any other property the two of you might own, jointly or seperately. Bundle the documents in one big file that you keep in a safe but accessible place, such as a locked drawer.
2. Obtain death certificates. You'll have to send nearly two dozen copies of your husband's death certificate to credit card companies, the company that holds the mortgage on your home, insurers and various other companies and agengies to verify his death. At this time, they are not requiring the copies be certified by the state.
3. File for benefits. Notify your husband's employer and file for any benefits owed you, such as pension income, life insurance and health insurance coverage. Do this by talking to the person in charge of employee benefits (ask the human resource department to direct you). Find out about settlement options - does the plan want you to choose between a lump-sum payment or annuitized payments, which are made every year.
4. File insurance claims. Alert your husband's life insurance company and file a claim. Your insurance agent will have all the policy information you will need and will be able to help you obtain the necessary forms.
5. Notify government offices. The Social Security Administration will need to be notified. You must have been married a minimum of nine months before your spouse's death to be eligible for benefits, except in the case of death resulting from accident or military service. Don't forget to contact the motor vehicles bureau in your state to change all vehicle registrations to your name.
6. Contact financial services providers. Any joint accounts should be transferred to an account in your name only. (You will need to use one of those death certificate copies for this.) In many instances, you will be able to renegotiate the terms of outstanding loans with your banker if your financial status is shaky. If your husband had a brokerage account, ask his broker to give you a value on his account at the time of his death. Estate taxes will be based on the evaluation of assets in all his accounts.
7. Update your insurance policies. If your spouse worked for a company that has a health plan covering 20 or more employees, the law requires the plan to offer you and any dependents coverage for at least 18 months but can be stretched up o three years if you have dependent children. Also update any life or disability insurance policies.
8. Put your money someplace safe. Do not even think about making any major financial decisions at this time. It is recommend that you refrain from investing any lump-sum insurance or pension payout for at least six months, and if you can wait this long, a full year after your husband's death. Stash cash into liquid money market funds, or short-term certificates of deposit or Treasury bills.
9. Work out a spending plan. You have already assembled the important documents. Now you need to allocate your new income to satisfy your needs as well as investing your money for retirement, for your children's education, and so forth. Subtract what you owe on your mortgage, credit cards and outstanding loans as well as any tax obligations from your total assets. How much income do you have? How much do you spend each month? Determine which bills must be paid and which are optional. There's your spending priorities.
10.Take it slow. After you navigated the must-do list and found the crucial documents, take a break. Don't be pressured to make big financial decisions. When you are ready, it's a good idea to set up an appointment with a financial adviser to help you make wise decisions.
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