The death of a spouse is one of the most difficult things any of us will encounter.  Usually, and understandably, the last thing the surviving spouse is thinking about during that difficult time is the financial steps that must be taken.  This article outlines many of the actions that are typically required.

Initially, some of the tasks listed below may be simplified or eliminated if the deceased spouse had a living trust.  Trusts and other planning measures that are implemented during life can greatly ease the burden of the spouse that survives.


Death Certificates

Many of the agencies you contact will request a death certificate.  In Missouri, the county health department can issue certified copies of a death certificate.  Usually you can also purchase them through the funeral home.

Assets Titled Only in the Deceased Spouse’s Name

Typically a married couple’s house and bank accounts are titled in joint names as husband and wife.  In Missouri, that type of joint titling results in the survivor owning the asset.  But sometimes the deceased spouse owned a car, a bank account or something else in that person’s name only.  In that event, a probate procedure may be  needed to change the title.  If the amount of property needing probate is less than $40,000.00, a small estate procedure, that is generally faster and less expensive, may be used.

Insurance Policies

Life insurance benefits are typically paid to the beneficiaries listed by the policy’s owner on a beneficiary designation form.  If you contact the insurance company, they will furnish forms that the beneficiary can use to claim the insurance proceeds.  If the deceased spouse is listed as a beneficiary of the survivor’s life insurance policy, it would be prudent to contact the insurance company to update the beneficiary designation.

Employee Benefits

Contact the employer to see if the deceased spouse was entitled to any benefits from life insurance or other programs maintained by the employer.  There may also be death benefits available from prior employers including payments from pension plans. 

Cancel Credit Cards and Other Items

If the deceased spouse had a credit card in only his or her name, it is usually advisable to cancel it.  If probate is necessary, consider paying any balance due from the assets in the probate estate.

Save Yourself Some Trouble Before Tragedy Strikes

The difficulty involved in performing many of the tasks outlined above can be lessened or eliminated by estate planning during a person’s lifetime.  Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can greatly lessen the difficulty encountered by a surviving spouse during a very challenging and trying time.

Written by Gregory F. Quinn, Attorney with Quinn Estate & Elder Law