Posted on June 6, 2019

Suddenly a Survivor – 10 Things to Help Prepare for the Death of a Spouse


Written by Trish Shumpert

Bob and Anna were married for more than 30 years when Bob passed unexpectedly in his sleep. His beloved wife woke to a stark new reality that morning. Suddenly she was surrounded by vital decisions all demanding to be made at once.

Across town, Chris received an urgent call at work that changed his life forever. There was an accident on a nearby highway and his wife, the mother of their two young sons, was pronounced dead at the scene. Over the next several weeks, Chris found himself engulfed in the most difficult decision-making time of his life.

Though both scenarios are completely different circumstances, they each involve the unbelievable stress of being left as the surviving spouse. Whether married in their golden years, or a couple in the thick of parenting young children, the death of a spouse changes life drastically and for good.

You can never really be “prepared” for such an event. However, there are key elements to know and discuss ahead of time that can relieve some of the pressure and stress of a spouse’s death.

1. Know where your important financial and/or life documents are.

Marriage license, birth certificates, social security cards, trust and/or will documents, bank statements and insurance policies are just a few items you’ll need access to in the event of a death. These documents should be in a known location and easy to access. Our Family Essential Records Quick-Access Guide, is a helpful tool to keep this information updated and organized.

2. Have a Will in place.

According to the 2016 Gallup Poll, only 44 percent of Americans report having a Will in place. Lawyers recommend having a Will to help transfer assets smoothly. Without a Will, a court makes decisions on your behalf in what often is a lengthy process. To learn more about Wills, click here to download our free guide Understanding Wills & Trusts.

3. Make sure beneficiaries are named and updated as needed.

If you have a bank, investment, or retirement account, you’ve most likely been asked to name beneficiaries. Because these direct beneficiary designations supersede a Will, it is very important to review and update them regularly.

4. Understand Life Insurance policies and benefits.

Know what policies or contracts you and your spouse have in place. Have company contact information clearly listed and easy to find should you need it. This is also a good time to make sure you are adequately covered and that your beneficiaries are up to date.

Not sure how much insurance you should have? A trusted financial advisor can assist with determining adequate coverage amounts and available policies when planning for surviving spouses.

5. Review Social Security benefits and options.

The Social Security Administration has a vast amount of information available on its website They encourage you to create an account to view your Social Security Statement, change your address and manage your benefits online. In the event of the death of a spouse, you can also find helpful information regarding Survivors Benefits.

A financial advisor should be able to provide a Social Security Analysis that helps give an idea of benefits available for your planning for now and for surviving spouses.

6. Reference the Surviving Spouse Checklist to keep organized.

Review our Surviving Spouse Checklist to get familiar with the process and necessary steps of handling the death of a spouse before a loss. We created the list to help the surviving spouse stay organized and informed. Download a free copy here.

7. Understand the benefits of Pre-Planning Funeral Arrangements.

One of the greatest gifts you can provide loved ones is clarity in the planning process. Discussing arrangements and documenting your preferences now allows family members to make clear, confident decisions later that are fully aligned with your wishes and desires. Our Funeral Planning Guide is a helpful tool to begin this process.

8. Beware of scams!

Unfortunately, there are those who prey on the vulnerability of someone dealing with the death of a loved one. Though new scams seem to appear daily, you can guard yourself against being taken simply by being aware. Remember basic measures to protect your information, such as never giving credit card numbers and social security numbers to people calling you.

The Federal Trade Commission has a “Scams” section on their website for consumers at They offer the most recent alerts about scams and how to recognize the warning signs. Review good practices before you are in a high-stress situation and protect yourself now.

9. Surround yourself with trusted people to help and don’t rush into decisions.

Should you lose your spouse, it is important to have people with your best interest in mind close by. Make a contact list of key people in your life who would be helpful for planning if you or your spouse is the survivor.

When it comes to making decisions, some of the best advice during this time is to sleep on it if you can. Taking time to make important decisions helps you understand options and potential outcomes better.

10. Call on a trusted Financial Advisor to assist in Estate Planning.

Take this opportunity to review your estate plan with your spouse. It is important for both parties to understand the plan and have input. Losing a spouse is difficult – overwhelming emotions and sudden changes make managing financial obligations seem impossible.

We can help with estate planning for surviving spouses and all of the above 10 Things to Know. Make an appointment with your wealth advisor to discuss your options today.