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Careful choices can help brighten the future after the sudden loss of a spouse
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During this period, a widow should try to focus on gathering, organizing and making an inventory of all assets and liabilities.

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She will need to quickly get control of the household bills if she was not paying them previously. She will also need to collect and organize her husband's financial and personal effects, including:

  • All bank accounts
  • Mutual fund and brokerage holdings
  • Safe deposit box
  • Vehicle titles
  • Home mortgage
  • Medical insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Social Security benefits
  • Retirement and annuity benefits
  • Credit cards and travelers checks
  • Unpaid salary
  • IRAs, 401(k), pension and profit-sharing
  • Workman's compensation benefits
  • Social Security Survivor's Benefits

    "What is really frightening is that people don't know where everything is," says Hannon. "Many women don't have a clue where a lot of the investments are or even who their life insurance agent is. They may have paid all the household bills and wrote the checks each month, but they didn't deal with the big-picture stuff. That's very traditional."

    Once a thorough search of files, home, autos and the workplace is completed, it's time to assess the widow's complete financial picture. If the couple had a certified financial planner, accountant or lawyer, this is a good time to compare notes with them. Are there assets -- or liabilities -- that may have been overlooked?

    Common sources of death benefits include the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, employment coverage and personal life insurance.

    A more thorough search for death benefits can be time well spent. In addition to a life insurance policy, there may be accidental or sudden death benefits attached to credit cards, bank accounts, loans, memberships in unions or organizations, current or previous employers, or even home, auto or health insurance policies.

    Taking off
    Once a widow has a grasp on her financial situation, it's time to notify all concerned parties of her husband's passing (include a copy of the death certificate as needed) and transfer such things as credit cards, licenses, titles, bank and retirement accounts into her own name wherever possible. This is also a good time to update her own will and life insurance beneficiaries.

    The issue of moving often comes up once the financial picture is clear. For most widows, expenses will still run 80 percent of what they were before their husbands died, according to WISER. For any number of reasons, including financial, a widow may decide to move or downsize.

     

     
     
    Next: At some point in the first 12 to 18 months ...
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     RESOURCES
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