15 Critical Financial Tips That Widows and Widowers Need To Know

SAVING & SPENDING - FINANCIAL HEALTH
Take these key steps to secure your financial future after the loss of a partner.
Updated April 11, 2024
Fact checked
Man looking distressed at laptop

We receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

Losing a partner is devastating at any age. On top of losing the person you’d hoped to spend the rest of your life with, you have to deal with the newly precarious financial future stretching ahead of you.

Unfortunately, many widows and widowers find themselves needing to make major financial adjustments after losing a loved one. 

We’ve done our best to simplify the most pivotal financial steps so you can prepare yourself financially for a future without your partner.

Read this with a trusted, financially savvy friend

Seventyfour/Adobe Young lady chatting with her colleague at outdoor cafe

You have enough on your plate already without having to shoulder the full weight of understanding your confusing new financial reality.

Instead of trying to parse our advice and make financial plans on your own, bring someone you trust into the conversation. As you discuss your next financial steps, try to delegate as many non-essential tasks to them as possible so you can focus on yourself.

Try to distinguish between real help and opportunism

fizkes/Adobe Woman looking concerned

Some people may see a “friend” in crisis as the perfect opportunity to make a little money for themselves. Other friends may do their best to help but lack the financial savvy to help you make clear-headed fiscal choices, which could land you in a tight spot.

Do what you can to find the balance between ceding total control of your finances and not trusting anyone to help you make financial choices with potentially huge consequences.

Turn to financial experts for help

insta_photos/Adobe Man looking at paperwork

There’s no substitute for expertise and experience. A financial advisor can offer help that even your most supportive friends and family members simply can’t. Look for a trustworthy fiduciary with a proven track record of ethical financial behavior.

Make a list of key costs

fizkes/Adobe Woman examining a paper document

Unfortunately, death can be an unexpected financial burden for those left behind. As soon as you feel up to it, make a list of upcoming expenses related to your loss, including hospital bills, hospice bills, or funeral arrangements.

Even if you don’t necessarily need to start making payments right away, you don’t want to be blindsided with a massive bill you can’t afford a few weeks from now.

Don’t close your joint checking account

kamiphotos/Adobe Person with calculator

If you and your spouse shared a checking or savings account, it’s a good rule of thumb not to take your name off the account for at least a year. 

You need to maintain account access if your partner receives payments through the account or has used it to schedule automatic bill payments.

Have someone contact the Social Security Administration

wolterke/Adobe Social Security Office in United State

If your recently deceased spouse was receiving Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) needs to be notified as soon as possible so it can pay out survivor benefits, stop sending benefit checks, or take another action. 

Typically, your funeral director takes care of contacting the SSA on your behalf, but you’ll want to double-check that they’ve done so.

Call the Social Security Administration directly if you have to

sharafmaksumov/Adobe Social Security website

If you don’t have a funeral director or if no one else is available to report the death to the SSA, you might have to do so yourself. It’s painful, but it needs to be done. (Don’t be afraid to grab a friend or family member to sit next to you for support while you make the call.)

You can’t report a death online, but you can call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. any weekday.

Don’t cash your spouse’s benefits check this month

lunamarina/Adobe Signing a check

The SSA requires you to return any Social Security benefits that the decedent received during the month of their death. If your spouse received payment by mail, don’t cash the check you received (if you haven’t already done so).

If the check has been cashed or benefits were paid via direct deposit, you’ll likely need to contact the bank about reversing the deposit.

Get help if you haven't filed for benefits yet

Andrey Popov/Adobe Social security benefits forms

Social Security benefits are confusing at best. As a widow or widower, you may qualify for survivor benefits, but you’ll also need to make decisions about whether you should claim your benefits now or later. 

A financial professional can help you develop a strategy for maximizing your Social Security benefits as a single individual.

Resist the urge to make snap decisions

lordn/Adobe Packing boxes

Some people follow up a life-changing event with a series of life-changing decisions, including big financial decisions about whether to retire early, change careers, sell their house, or move across the country.

Unless you have to make one of these choices immediately — for instance, if you can no longer afford your house in the aftermath of a death — put off any decisions with major financial consequences until you’re in a different state of mind.

Put off minor financial decisions until you’re ready

fizkes/Adobe Woman jotting down notes in a notebook

Grief can make getting out of bed impossible, so it makes sense if planning for your financial future isn’t a task you can picture yourself tackling right now.

Again, if you’re unsure what’s crucial and what isn’t, ask a friend to help you make a list that clearly distinguishes between the two. Then, feel free to let the less-pressing tasks fall to the wayside — give yourself permission to deal with them another day.

Familiarize yourself with your new tax situation

Moon Safari/Adobe A man using his laptop while managing documents

Taxes are complicated enough on their own, and losing a spouse adds a new level of frustration and complication. 

For instance, now that you’ll no longer be filing as a married couple, you might be bumped into a higher tax bracket even though you’re short a source of income.

A tax professional can help you understand how your spouse’s death will impact your tax return and offer advice about whether you can file taxes as a qualifying widow or widower.

Consider a different investment strategy

lovelyday12/Adobe Flourishing of a tree represents the idea of saving money

Investment portfolios might contain different levels of risks and types of investments based on whether the investor is married or single. 

Now that you’re the only beneficiary on an investment account, it’s wise to talk to your financial advisor about whether your investment strategy needs to be updated to account for your new situation.

Be smart with life insurance payments

tashatuvango/Adobe A labeled file folder for

Depending on the situation and your partner’s insurance policy, you might receive a lump sum after your spouse’s death. Try to approach any funds cautiously and with a solid financial strategy in place.

You might want to invest some of the funds into your retirement savings account or use some as a down payment on a smaller house — but the last thing you want to do is make a snap judgment that effectively squanders a good amount of money.

Beware of financial scams targeting widows and widowers

Kirsti D/peopleimages.com/Adobe Woman experiencing financial stress

Regrettably, plenty of unscrupulous people profit by preying on people in immense emotional distress. Romance schemes, in particular, are a common way to scam lonely, recently bereft individuals out of their money.

The scam usually involves someone reaching out to you on a chatting or dating site, building an emotional rapport, then asking for money they promise to pay back before disappearing. 

Beware of new acquaintances who show up in the aftermath of loss and inevitably turn a conversation back to money.

Bottom line

merklicht.de/Adobe Man reading on laptop

No one wants to be in a situation where they have to make financial decisions in the middle of overwhelming grief. 

However, the quicker you can reduce your money stress, the faster you’ll be able to get back to grieving and rebuilding.

Remember to rely on others as much as possible while dealing with financial practicalities — you shouldn’t have to go through this alone.

Author Details

Michelle Smith Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.

Want to learn how to make an extra $200?

Get proven ways to earn extra cash from your phone, computer, & more with Extra.

You will receive emails from FinanceBuzz.com. Unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy

  • Vetted side hustles
  • Exclusive offers to save money daily
  • Expert tips to help manage and escape debt