Guest post by Marie Villeza of ElderImpact.org
The loss of a spouse is full of grief and sadness, and for your senior loved one, this process can feel like a blur. The funeral and days after are filled with kind faces, flowers and food, but once the steady traffic subsides, your loved one is left to pick up the pieces and carry on with life. An area of their life that you should pay attention to and may need to help them with is their finances. There are several financial considerations and actions that must be made following the death of a spouse, and you can help your loved one make sure they get done.
Dealing With Debt
In most cases, you can breathe a sigh of relief because your loved one won’t inherit any debt, whether in the form of medical or credit card bills. Instead, the estate will pay off the money owed. However, if they live in a state that considers debt to be community property and shared by both partners (California, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Idaho and Washington), it is possible that your loved one could be responsible for a portion of the debt. It is best to speak with an attorney where debt is concerned. Help your loved one understand too that they should never let a creditor convince them to make immediate payment.
Make Necessary Changes to Accounts
To avoid any further complications, gather copies of the death certificate and let credit card companies know of the death (an exception to this is if the account is joint) via phone and mail. Your loved one should also freeze their spouse’s credit by contacting the three common credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Banks should be alerted as well, and any accounts held solely in the deceased’s name should be closed.
As for health insurance, each Medicare recipient has their own account, but the same might not apply if your loved one received benefits from their spouse’s retirement package. There may be set rules for surviving spouses, but now might also be the time if your loved one wants to change their plan.
Selling the Home
After the death of a spouse, some seniors choose to sell their home. It could be too painful to continue living there, they want to downsize, other living arrangements may be made, or perhaps they need the extra cash. This can also be a fresh start and a positive step in the grieving process.
While this decision might not be motivated by money, it’s helpful to understand how much can be made from the sale by taking into account buyer and seller agent commission as well as taxes. If the market and price are right, you can sell the house by working with a real estate agent who will walk your loved one through every step of the way.
Regardless of whether the deceased spouse was in charge of the finances, it will be beneficial for both you and the surviving loved one if you help them get their finances organized. Put together a filing system with separate tabs for estate, insurance, tax info, government benefits, bank/credit accounts, home, car, etc. During the months following the death, it might be helpful if all mail is stored so you can help determine what is priority versus junk.
If your loved one agrees, ask for the login details to their bank account so you can track their spending and ensure nothing seems amiss, or set up a time every couple of weeks to review it together.
The death of a loved one can send anyone’s life into turmoil. For the loved one who is now without a spouse, it can seem as though time stops. However, life goes on, and they may need your help to continue moving forward, especially when it comes to finances. Offer a helping hand, and the two of you can get through it together.
About Marie Villeza
Marie’s mission is to empower seniors against ageism by providing information they need to keep control of their own lives. She developed ElderImpact.org to provide seniors and their caregivers with resources and advice.