July 31, 2019

OMG My Spouse Just Died, What Do I Do?

Lee Dunn

Lee Dunn
President & CEO /H. Lee Dunn Consulting LLC

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War gaming is a critical process that tests military preparedness.  Different scenarios are developed, tested and refined to help ensure success and survival.  Draw from this experience to test your own emotional and financial survival.  

Here is the drill.  Your spouse just suffered a fatal life experience.  So young, this could not happen to us!  We did everything together; we were a team and now what do I do?  Tough to discuss and easy to postpone.

This article explores both financial and non-financial considerations.  The quality of your plan will be based upon an honest and open discussion between you and your spouse.  No secrets. Like any good plan, it needs to be updated.

"The death of a spouse is one of the most devastating events of a person's life."  This is the opening line from an article by Susan B. Garland, Contributing Editor in the September 2011 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report.  The article offers sound recommendations in coping with financial tasks requiring immediate attention. It cites the following key financial points.


  • Delay important financial decisions for at least six months
  • Gather documents
  • Get some help
  • Assess your cash flow
  • Collect life insurance benefits
  • Prepare the estate
  • Check with your employer
  • Rollover an IRA
  • Claim a Social Security benefit

In the article, Charles Simon, a certified financial planner with Taconic Advisors suggests creating a "financial support team" including an accountant, lawyer, financial planner, and a trusted friend or family member who has good financial skills."  Sound advice.  It would be appropriate to develop those relationships prior to a life-changing event and include a trusted insurance agent, banker, and funeral director.  Involve your team, include your spouse and develop the plan jointly.  This will help in forming a comfortable mutual relationship and preparing a sound life change plan.


Do you have the following in place?

  • A ready supply of cash and liquid assets?
  • Last will and testament?
  • A durable power of attorney?
  • Healthcare power of attorney?
  • Assignment of personal property?
  • Joint revocable trust?
  • Burial instructions?
  • Financial cash flow analysis preferably on an Excel spreadsheet?
  • A current listing of all identifications and passcodes? 

Another important question is where will you live if the other passes?  How much money will you have to spend?  You will need to determine how much of your spouse's income will be available to you.  Should you consider a reverse home mortgage to help cash flow?  The answers to these questions will be important and determine what lifestyle you can afford.  

Here are some other considerations. In most households, each spouse performs specific functions.  With two working spouses, it is not as much gender-driven as in prior years.  So, if your spouse passes, can you:

  • Cook a meal and where are those recipes?
  • Perform the wash and where are the appliance manuals?
  • Fix a leaky faucet?
  • Mow the lawn and care for the mower and snowblower?
  • Handle the children's schedule?
  • Handle the pets?
  • Handle the home and car maintenance?
  • Remember the birthdays?
  • Reconcile your checkbook?
  • Pay the bills?
  • Locate your valuables?
  • Find the safe deposit key?
  • Is your vendor list current?
  • Do you know how to access YouTube? 


Once you have your plan in place, the next step is for you and your spouse to be being able to retrieve it quickly.  It becomes even more challenging if you travel or own more than one home.  Much of it can be stored on your computer.  Both you and your spouse need to have access and know the needed passwords.  Other copies of information can be maintained by your support team.  If you pass or if unfortunately you and your spouse pass at the same time, your executor or trusted family member needs to contact your support team so your wishes can be fulfilled quickly.


It takes work to keep your plan current.  Times and circumstances change.  Only you can adjust and make decisions based upon the most recent happenings.  Update and disseminate.  Do your part in making a difficult situation less stressful.  Your family is depending on you.  

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