What Happens When a Spouse Dies?

Are we ever really prepared for that day when our spouse is no longer with us? Let’s hope that when that day arrives ‘Write a will’ is not still on our to-do list! Usually in a marriage one person is that detail-oriented one who pays the bills, understands the financial accounts and has the will prepared. Yet on that day of reckoning too many people find themselves totally unprepared to deal with the financial and legal matters of a household without the spouse who understands these mundane yet important matters. When a spouse dies, strong emotions all too often overpower our ability to relate with or deal with these matters.

A Trusted Confidant

Whether before or after the death of a spouse, it’s important to not go it alone. organizing infoThe first step is to get expert advice, both financial and legal. It’s preferable to have one person who is trusted and responsible with whom you can confide. Some people use a relative, yet this is advisable only if the person is reasonably expected to outlive you and your spouse, i.e., the person is of the next younger generation, whether a younger sibling, your child or even niece, nephew, or close cousin. More appropriate for many couples is a professional money manager, attorney, or financial advisor. This person may or may not be your estate executor, but it needs to be a strong yet sensitive person who can advise a surviving spouse at a time when grief can cloud one’s emotions and mental state. The most important point is to find someone that you trust with important details of your life!


The best help is to understand what and where are your important documents. These fall into the two categories of legal and financial. The questions that need to be readily answered and understood are:

  • Where is your will kept, and who is the Executor?
  • Who is your attorney?
  • Who is your financial advisor?
  • Who are your medical doctors?
  • How/where are medical prescriptions filled? Do they need to be paid from a specific account?
  • What are all the bills that need to be paid (are some paperless)? What is their schedule for payment?
  • Who performs your tax preparation and filing?
  • What bank accounts do you have (checking, savings?) and with which institution? Are they joint accounts or in only one spouses name?
  • With which institution are any retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k), Keough, etc.)?
  • What insurance policies do you have, and where are they located?
  • If you have online access to any of the above accounts, what is the website address and log-in information (user name, password) for each?

The answers to all these questions should be written down in one place and routinely kept updated.

Preparation is Paramount

Planning for the time when your spouse may not be with you may not be at the top of your bucket list, yet it’s one of the most important things to do. When your plan is being developed and even more importantly when in place, it is imperative to share it between both of the spouses and your outside trusted advisor.

Follow-on Career? This time do it right!

More people are now winding down, or have just ended, their primary career yet are in fine health and still wish to contribute their considerable time and energy. Nancy Collamer, M.S., a career coach, has penned a short yet insightful article that addresses this situation.

The important part is how to choose what ‘Second Act’ career is best for you. In the AARP Bulletin of April 5, Ms. Collamer simplifies that while making it memorable and easy; she asks three simple questions and provides one easy exercise to help you focus on what is meaningful, engenders happiness, and includes your strengths to determine your optimal ‘Second Act’ career fit. Read the article »

I would also add that with the experience that 50+ers have, starting one’s own business can be preferable to working for another and is something that, while not for everyone, should be considered. The interesting point is that you’ve probably already been preparing for it!