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What to do when a spouse passes away

In the immediate aftermath of the death of a spouse, most day-to-day obligations can feel futile. But Allworth co-founder Scott Hanson shares a few essential financial must-dos for the surviving partner.


The writer Mitch Albom once said, “Death ends a life, but not a relationship.”

As my family recently lost a loved one, I know that quote speaks to me, and so perhaps it will also resonate with those of you who are reading this and who have also experienced loss, and specifically, that of a spouse or partner.

Having served as an advisor for over three decades, I’ve sat across from many dear people who have honored me with the charge of helping them through this arduous time.

Because even though the weeks, months, and years following the death of a partner are obviously as difficult to navigate as any in life, the outside world refuses to stand still.

Just when you most need space and time to reflect and grieve, there are an uncountable number of decisions to make.

This applies even to those folks who have long prepared for this transition.

While most people understandably find this topic difficult to discuss, I also know that the subject is as important as any that an advisor will ever address. And so, it is with that consequential intention that I compose it.

With that, in the aftermath of the death of a loved one, in terms of the oftentimes seemingly impersonal world of financial concerns, here are 4 things you should do if your spouse or partner passes away.


1. Contact your financial and legal professionals

People who have saved well for the future typically have a “team.” This team usually consists of your attorney, accountant, and your fiduciary financial advisor.

In the event you are reading this and do not have these professionals in your life, it is imperative that you reach out to a trusted friend or loved one and seek their counsel for referrals.

If you find that you simply cannot muster the energy to do this, then you must enlist someone to make these connections on your behalf.

While incredibly difficult, securing these people to strategically guide you through this emotional time is among the most important decisions you will ever make.


2. Procure the will and certificate of death

You’ll need the will to help steer clear of probate and for the direction of assets that aren’t co-owned.

Now, if you haven’t already, let me not-so-subtly state here that creating a legally binding will and/or estate plan is so incredibly important to your future financial and emotional wellbeing, that there aren’t enough synonyms to emphasize the statement, “I encourage you to do this in the strongest possible way” available in the entire English language to do it justice.

If you don’t have a will or estate plan, then please begin the creation of one today.

Upon the death of a spouse, you also need several copies of the death certificate. (Think two dozen.) If that seems like a lot, just know that from banks to your advisor to your investment accounts, you are going to need copies for every company you have a financial relationship with.

You’ll also want copies for your records.

If you have made funeral arrangements in advance, then go to them and make certain they are the type of firm that will help you with this in the future.


3. Reach out to key professional organizations

While there are others, and while your attorney, CPA, and fiduciary financial advisor should assist you, in the event of the death of your partner, on the short list of professional organizations you will need to contact, are:

  • The Social Security Administration
  • All your insurers
  • The three main credit bureaus (Experian, Transunion, & Equifax)
  • All current and past employers

The last bullet, “All current and past employers,” is an important one that is all too often overlooked. It is extremely common for retirement accounts (401(k)), life insurance policies, pensions, etc., to be left behind and long forgotten and to remain permanently unclaimed.

Take it upon yourself, or delegate this to a trusted loved one. And, most importantly, do not count on these entities to eventually track you down.


4. Don’t forget to update the ownership of all assets

This is a category where the death certificate will absolutely be required, as even though you are probably the beneficiary, you will likely not be able to legally transfer assets entirely to your name without it.

Some assets you’ll need to transfer include:

  • Bank accounts
  • Investments
  • Property titles
  • Vehicles


I hope that if you are facing or experiencing loss, that the above serves to help move the peripheral-but-still-necessary logistical and financial concerns that you will have to deal with forward. And, of course, we consider ourselves a community, so please let us know if you have any questions about navigating the death of a loved one, spouse, or partner.


What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

- Hellen Keller