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What Happens When My Spouse or Partner Dies?

woman wondering what to do when her partner dies

We are here for you and can help you keep the pace manageable.

Losing a spouse or partner is traumatic and in the immediate aftermath, you may be feeling a bit uncertain about your financial future. This is common, but with a bit of guidance from your financial advisor, you can overcome many of the challenges you will be facing.

The roadmap

This time can be scary and overwhelming as your financial outlook has been modified since your spouse is deceased. If you were both collecting social security benefits, you will now only be collecting the larger of your two benefits.

If your spouse was collecting social security, but you were not, you may be eligible to continue receiving those payments under spousal benefits. Talk to your financial advisor or contact your local Social Security office about how to go about this.

You also need to deal with other financial matters including:

  • Liquidating or transferring your spouse’s retirement accounts
  • Transferring joint accounts from two names to one
  • Resetting the terms of a family trust (when applicable)
  • Collecting life insurance benefits
  • Updating your beneficiaries on insurance policies and retirement accounts


In most cases, your financial advisor can help you with nearly all of the changes that would be necessary to ensure the proper transfer of your accounts and those accounts which were handled by your spouse.

Recommendations following the death of your spouse or partner

One of the most important things you will have to do is reassess your financial goals. This is a necessity since your financial landscape is different, but it is very normal for this to take a while as you process everything.

There are some things you can do which will help you get your finances in order, including ensuring your financial records are in order, claiming life insurance benefits, dealing with short-term financial issues such as funeral and burial costs, planning for your long-term financial needs, and setting new financial goals.

Not only should you speak with your financial advisor, but you may also need to speak with someone qualified to answer tax-related questions. Keep in mind, changes to your investment portfolio may result in new profits or losses which will have an impact on your taxes.

Your situation may warrant changes to your investment portfolio. Regardless, you will need to obtain the value of all of your holdings as of the date of your spouse’s death for tax purposes. This is to ensure the cost basis of any investments which were wholly owned by your spouse is carried over correctly to your ownership for tax purposes.

When considering investment portfolio changes, you will want to discuss several issues with your Advisor including:

  • Your monthly income needs
  • Your investment objectives (e.g. safety, income, growth)
  • Your tax filing status (single versus married)
  • Life insurance needs
  • Changes or amendments to life insurance


You may feel uncertain about how to deal with the sudden need to be immersed in your personal finances, which is why it is helpful to seek the appropriate guidance from your financial advisor. They will help you through this process and make sure you are aware of the options which are available to help you maintain your financial fitness.

Use caution when making major financial decisions

In the immediate aftermath of losing a spouse or partner, sometimes it is tempting to make decisions that you may regret later. Before liquidating assets such as a home, motor vehicle, or other assets, it is a good idea to assess your overall financial situation. There is likely no hurry.

First, you must address assets which your spouse may have bequeathed to others in their will. Therefore, it may not be possible to sell some assets because you no longer are entitled to claim them as your own.

Additionally, the sale of a primary residence or a second home may also have serious tax implications, so it is important you seek guidance from a qualified tax professional before you make these types of decisions.

As a result of changes to your income following the loss of your spouse, it may be necessary to make adjustments to your investment portfolio to generate the income needed to maintain your lifestyle. Your financial advisor can help you with those decisions.

advisor going over paperwork with widow

Understanding logistical challenges

If you and your spouse or partner had separate financial accounts or assets, you will want to locate your spouse’s will as quickly as possible and seek guidance from a qualified estate attorney. You will also likely need to provide a certified death certificate and possibly a certified copy of your marriage certificate.

Assuming you are the executor or administrator of your spouse’s estate, you will have to notify creditors and other heirs as well as set up an estate account to resolve any outstanding debt and taxes owed by your spouse. You should seek guidance from a qualified estate attorney to help you with this process if you are uncertain about how it works.

To change financial accounts from jointly held accounts to single owner accounts, obtain life insurance proceeds, update trust documents, or transfer retirement accounts, you will need copies of a certified death certificate. If your spouse held any accounts in their name solely, you may also need to provide a copy of their certified will and proof that you have the legal authority to make changes.

Your Baker Boyer Advisor can help

We pride ourselves on diligence, care, trust, and confidence. We are prepared to work with you to handle your new financial landscape and work with those trusted professionals who are handling other matters on your behalf to make sure you get the support and services you need during this difficult period. We understand that this process can be overwhelming. If you would like, please invite and bring someone you trust with you to your Advisor meeting.