Family Finances — Death in the Family

Death in the Family

Practical financial matters are the last thing you want to cope with at a time of grief. But, there are certain steps you can take to help make a difficult time a little easier:

  • If you don’t already have an estate attorney or other financial advisor, consider choosing one now. Ask for recommendations from trusted friends, check the advisor’s background and references, and make sure you have a written outline of fees and services.
  • Gather documents, including insurance policies, Social Security information, bank account numbers, household bills, tax returns, and will.
  • Ask the funeral home to provide at least 10 copies of the death certificate, or get them from your county health department. You’ll need these certificates in order to access bank accounts, process insurance claims, redirect U.S. mail delivery and handle other paperwork.
  • If you’re the executor of the estate, you will have specific duties, including making an inventory of assets, notifying heirs, petitioning the court to probate the will, which assures payment of bills and transfer of the estate to beneficiaries, and filing a federal estate income tax return. This is a complicated process so if you’re unsure, seek advice from an estate attorney or other expert.
  • Update records on insurance policies, credit cards, and property titles.

Getting a handle on your credit after the loss of a spouse or partner:

  • Order a copy of your spouse’s credit report. Credit reports are the most accurate way to compare and contrast account information. You will need a certified copy of the death certificate, power of attorney or documentation that you are the executor of the estate to obtain the credit report.
  • Review a copy of your one credit report. Obtain a copy of your credit report to assess your current standing. You can obtain a free credit report online at
  • Begin building your own credit. If you have not done so already, begin building your own credit history. Some banks and credit card issuers are willing to work with you even if you have no prior credit history.
  • Notify credit reporting agencies of your spouse’s death. Although these agencies will eventually be notified by the Social Security Administration, contact the three major credit reporting agencies to ensure they are aware of your spouse’s death: Equifax (800-685-1111), Experian (800-311-4769), and Trans Union (800-888-4213).
  • Notify creditors of your spouse’s death. Like the credit reporting agencies, your creditors will also receive death notices from the Social Security Administration. However, the fastest way to alert creditors of your spouse’s death is for you to notify them directly. This can help end calls and correspondence to your spouse and expedite the process of updating the creditor’s accounts and mailing lists.
  • Remove your spouse’s name from mailing lists. You can have your spouse’s credit file blocked from screening and pre-approved mailing lists by contacting 888-567-8688. You can also contact the Direct Marketing Association and Telephone Preference Service to have your spouse’s name removed from many mailing or telemarketing lists.

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