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Tip of the Week

Death of a Spouse

 While it’s terrible to imagine, you could find yourself mourning the death of a spouse while having to go through financial paperwork. If possible it’s good to discuss financial details in advance with your spouse. Find out where their money and investments are, and make sure you will have access to them.

360 Degrees of Financial Literacy is a free website from the nation’s certified public accountants to help Americans understand their personal finances through every stage of life, even the difficult ones. Below is their advice on processing the paperwork:

  • Report the death to Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213. If your spouse was receiving benefits via direct deposit, request that the bank return funds received for the month of death and thereafter to Social Security. Do not cash any Social Security checks received by mail. Return all checks to Social Security as soon as possible. Surviving spouses and other family members may be eligible for a $255 lump-sum death benefit and survivor's benefits. Go to www.ssa.gov for more information.
  • Contact all insurance companies to file claims. The policies could include individual and group life, mortgage insurance, auto credit life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment insurance, credit card insurance, and annuities.
  • Arrange to retrieve your spouse's belongings from his or her workplace. Collect any salary, vacation, or sick pay owed to your spouse, and be sure to ask about continuing health insurance coverage and potential survivor's benefits for a spouse or children.
  • Contact past employers regarding pension plans, and contact any IRA custodians or trustees. Review designated beneficiaries and post-death distribution options.
  • Contact all credit card companies and let them know of the death. Cancel all cards unless you're named on the account and wish to retain the card.
  • File the will with the appropriate probate court. If real estate was owned out of state, file ancillary probate in that state also. If there is no will, contact the probate court for instructions, or contact a probate attorney for assistance.
  • Retitle jointly held assets, such as bank accounts, automobiles, stocks and bonds, and real estate.
  • A federal estate tax return may need to be filed within nine months of death. State laws vary, but state estate tax and/or inheritance tax returns may also need to be filed, and may have a different filing date. Federal and state income taxes are due for the year of death on the normal filing date, unless an extension is requested. If there are trusts, separate income tax returns may need to be filed.
  • Reevaluate your budget, short-term and long-term finances, insurance needs, and investment options. Update insurance policies, and your own estate and investment plans as needed.

Check back next week as we take a look at tips to help you through other life stages.


Montana Credit Unions for Community Development (or MCUCD) is the award-winning, charitable arm of the Montana Credit Union Network. A state-wide nonprofit organization, MCUCD works together with the state's credit unions to improve the lives and financial independence of all Montanans.