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Settling accounts takes time and patience after spouse's death

Staff writer

Losing a spouse is something no happily married person wants to think about, but when it happens, the sense of loss is accompanied by the need to prepare for a single life.

Some things need to be taken care of right away, while other big decisions can be put off until the person has adjusted to the new situation.

The surviving spouse is left with the responsibility of making necessary changes to legal documents and notifying business connections of the death.

Judy Forney of Marion lost her husband in January, two and a half months after he was diagnosed with cancer.

She said the funeral director helped her get started on handling her affairs. He notified the Social Security Administration of the death and ordered death certificates for her.

She said death certificate orders come in sets of six or 10, depending on how many original certificates are thought to be needed. Some companies want original copies, while others are satisfied with a photocopy.

“I had to pull files and find everything,” Forney said.

One of the first things she did was send a letter to her husband’s life insurance company, along with a death certificate.

She knew Social Security provides a $250 death benefit but was not sure if it was automatic or if she needed to apply for it. So she called the area Social Security office, which verified the death and said the benefit would be taken care of automatically.

She said her husband’s monthly Social Security benefit was larger than hers, and now she receives his benefit.

“I’m better off than I thought I would be,” she said.

Her husband had a pension from the Salvation Army, in which he served his entire life. She notified the organization of his death, so that the pension could be transferred to her.

Her husband had two credit cards that were in his name only. Forney said she called and canceled them. Bonus earnings that had accumulated on the cards were sent via check in his name. When she received notice the accounts were closed, she cut up the cards.

Forney and her husband had joint checking accounts. She was advised by their bank not to remove his name from the accounts for six months to a year, in case she receives a check made out to him. If his name was not on the account, she could not deposit the money, she said.

Forney also learned that she needed to notify credit-reporting companies of her husband’s death.

She checked everything they owned that had a title, to make sure both of their names were on the title.

She discovered that the only thing in just her husband’s name was a camper. When she went to the courthouse to inquire what she needed to do to get a new title, they advised her it would be cheaper to wait to get a new title until the license was up for renewal and to bring the death certificate at that time.

Property insurance companies issued new policies and cards just in Forney’s name.

With her 2016 tax return, Forney was required to attach just a copy of the death certificate, but for 2017, she will send an original.

“It all takes time,” Forney said. “I think I got our things covered because our life was pretty simple.”

She noted that everyone’s situation is different and would require different things. For example, people who have investments probably would need the help of a financial advisor. Those whose spouses served in the military would have to contact the veterans’ administration.

Forney’s advice to others in her situation is simple: “If you don’t know what to do, just call and ask.”

Additional information can be found online by searching “things to do after the death of a spouse.”

Last modified April 6, 2017

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