Death of a Spouse – How to Prepare

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

The death of a souse doesn’t have to mean financial ruin. If you’re married you should get prepared financially for the death of your spouse.

I’m not trying to be morose. I’m trying to get you to be realistic. If you heed this advice, only good can come from it. At least nothing bad can happen. But if you ignore my advice, you might have to go through an unimaginable financial nightmare in addition to the emotional devastation.  This is especially true when one spouse has significant debt.

So, how do you prepare financially for the death of a spouse?

1. Talk.

You should each be preparing financially for the premature death of each other. Have a plan. Discuss everything from banking to baking. Make sure each of you are committed to helping the other survive. A great tip is to gather up the mail that you usually deal with and make sure your spouse knows how to deal with it. Your husband won’t like this exercise, but it’s good for him.

2. Share records and important passwords.

Do you know how many (widows) don’t have their spouse’s passwords? It’s astounding. If you don’t have the passwords and other log-in information, all the money in the world will do you no good. That’s because you won’t have access to it.  It goes without saying that you should also fine-tune your family estate plan now before it’s too late.

3. Create checklists.

Everything should be reduced to writing. Pretend you’re a pilot and your family is a 747. Right now, you’re cruising at 30,000 feet. You want to make sure you come in for a smooth landing no matter what happens to the captain during the flight. Airlines make sure of this by putting as much of the flight as possible on auto-pilot and having backup systems for everything else. Included in those backup systems are checklists to help the co-pilot take over in case of emergency. Is your co-pilot prepared? Make it easy for him by creating checklists. What should be included in those checklists?

  • Who to call in case of emergency
  • Phone numbers for insurance agents, financial planners, lawyers, relatives and friends
  • Insurance policies, policy numbers, insurance agents’ contact info, copies of the policies, death benefits, etc.
  • Investment and savings account statements, account numbers and contact info for the brokerage firms and advisors
  • Social Security numbers, account numbers, passwords and login info for all important websites
  • How to budget and how to get out of debt if appropriate
  • How to generate income during retirement
  • What to do with the retirement accounts and who to name as IRA beneficiaries
  • Contact information for credit cards and other debts
  • Saving money for retirement
  • College planning
  • How to invest
  • How to access your emergency fund

A few other important items include talking about how to get a part-time or second job if necessary and who to talk to in case questions come up. The very worst feeling for survivors is to feel alone. Your spouse is going to be down to one income (at best) and he’s going to have to survive without you. Try to make it as easy as possible.

These are a few of the questions that should be answered. I’m convinced that if you have a frank conversation, your spouse will come up with a host of other questions.

What other information would you want to have in the case of a spouse’s death?



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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen Pruneau October 24, 2010 at 1:26 PM

Death of the spouse, or the spouse being incapacitated. Hubby has been in hospital 7 weeks now, trying to sort through a non organized payment system is not so good. On the plus (?) side, I have discovered that his credit card with a limit of $1000 now has a limit of $5000 which it is up to. Whoopee. At least he has insurance from work which should give us some of his income for the next two years. I~ have already gotten him out of his $500 overdraft on his bank account – which fortunately I was added to last year. I am trying to organize everything,I started by calling the insurance agent and asking him what we have.


Neal@Wealth Pilgrim October 25, 2010 at 7:25 AM


While you make an excellent point, the main thing is I’m so sorry you and your husband (and family) are going thru this. My prayers and wishes for you all and a speedy recovery for your husband…


Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer October 23, 2010 at 6:10 AM

My MIL handled the family finances and when she died her husband didn’t know how to pay the bills, when they were due or any details.

He also had to take out a reversible mortgage after the loss of her social security income.


Bill October 19, 2010 at 8:37 PM

We co-mingle funds, but I do all the technical work. I maintain a spreadsheet with all our user-names/password per account number(coded which my wife could crack). I show my wife our net worth and how to access all our accounts, every month. I like to think she could do it, but I worry she is just smiling at me…


Everyday Tips October 19, 2010 at 9:35 AM

Very good tips. I handle all the finances in our house, so I have a binder with all our account numbers and everything for insurance, investments, college funds, retirement funds, etc.

I also think you should prepare for the possibility of BOTH parents dying,and making sure you have a guardian assigned if you have children. Someone you trust should also know where the important info is.


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