17 Things You Must Do After the Death of a Spouse

Losing a spouse is one of the most stressful and impactful life experiences you can have. When you are overwhelmed with grief, it can be hard to know where to start with the practical and emotional things you need to do, so we’ve compiled a list of 17 important things not to forget.

Acknowledge Your Grief

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Grief is a completely personal process that can manifest in different stages, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. According to Psychology Today, “attempts to suppress or deny grief are just as likely to prolong the process, while also demanding additional emotional effort.”

Contact an Attorney

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If your spouse had a will, this will need to be executed according to your state’s laws, which may involve probate court. If this is the case, an attorney can guide you through this process. If there isn’t a will, you’ll want legal guidance to follow state laws and determine how your partner’s assets are distributed.

Update Accounts and Titles

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Bank accounts, property titles, vehicles, and other assets will need to be changed to your name and ownership following the proper legal procedure. You’ll also want to review and update the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and life insurance policies to ensure they align with your current wishes.

Manage Insurance Matters

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According to Willful, you’ll need to contact your partner’s life insurance policy provider and “inquire about the conditions for receiving the death benefit. In most cases, you’ll need to file a benefit request (usually a form).” You’ll also want to review and update other insurance policies, such as health, home, and auto, to ensure they reflect your current situation.

Seek Emotional Support

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Grieving someone you love is a long and non-linear process, and you’ll need support from those around you. You could consider joining a support group specifically for those who have lost a spouse; this can help provide insights and empathy into shared experiences.

Arrange the Funeral

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Arranging a funeral is tricky, especially if you didn’t get around to discussing plans with your spouse before they died. According to USA Today, “you have several choices for the types of services you can hold — traditional burial, cremation, green burial, interment in a mausoleum and more. A funeral director or funeral home will be an informative resource to help make these decisions.”

Preserve Memories

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Mementos, photos, and other memories can be overwhelming when you’re grieving, but it’s a good idea to create a dedicated space, such as a box or scrapbook, to place them. You could also consider creating some traditions to keep your spouse’s memory alive; this could be an annual gathering of friends and family or a ritual of your own.

Take Care of Your Health

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When you are grieving, it can be easy to ignore your health, but it’s important to maintain a balanced diet, get regular exercise, and ensure you’re getting adequate sleep. It’s a good idea to establish a routine for yourself, including time for self-care, as this will help bring a sense of normality to your day.

Understand Your Legal Rights

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As the surviving spouse, you may have specific legal rights when it comes to inheritance, property ownership, and decision-making for your spouse’s estate. This also includes dealing with debts and obligations left by your spouse; you’ll need to make sure you understand which of these will be transferred to your responsibility.

Notify Family and Friends

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Compile a list of relatives, friends, and colleagues to inform, and consider enlisting help to ensure everyone is notified. Marie Curie says, “It’s best to talk slowly and gently using plain, simple language. You may want to warn them that you have bad (or sad) news to try to make it less of a shock.”

Plan Your Finances

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It’s essential that you reassess and adjust your budget, taking into account any change in income or expense. You’ll also want to consider your long-term finances, reassessing investment strategies, retirement planning, and savings goals in your new circumstances.

Update Your Estate Plan

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Your estate documents will need to be reviewed and revised to ensure they reflect your current circumstances and wishes. This will include your will, trust documents, and power of attorney. You’ll also want to update your healthcare directives to designate a new person to make decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so.

Engage in New Activities

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New hobbies and interests can provide a sense of fulfillment as well as an opportunity to connect with others and help your healing process. You could consider volunteering or reconnecting with old friends who can provide support and companionship.

Secure Financial Documents

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Gathering financial documents such as bank statements, wills, insurance policies, and investment records will help you understand the scope of your spouse’s estate. Money Helper also says that you’ll need to switch household bills over to you, switch from a joint to an individual account, and deal with any outstanding debts or loans in their name.

Honor Your Spouse’s Legacy

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Whether you continue a project they started or participate in work for a charity they supported, working towards something important to your spouse can keep their memory alive and create a meaningful legacy. You could also consider gathering with loved ones on significant dates or planting a tree to reflect on and celebrate your spouse’s life.

Embrace Change

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Adapting to life without your spouse means you’ll need to accept your new normal, including a new daily routine or maybe new living arrangements. It’s important to see these adjustments as a transition into a new phase of life, and this can help you plan for new milestones and future events.

Look Toward the Future

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Setting new personal goals can provide you with direction and purpose, whether they’re related to your career, education, travel, or other personal development. By focusing on finding joy, fulfillment, and meaning in life, you can foster resilience and hope for your new chapter.

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