My husband died earlier this year and I suddenly have to take care of managing our finances. How do I get started?

Family Caregiving, Personal Finance December 08, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF

In all relationships, there is naturally some division of labor that is negotiated. When one partner in the relationship dies, the other is left to take care of all of the responsibilities. This can be overwhelming.

The nature of the responsibilities range from household management to handling the finances to taking care of the children to car care. You may decide that it’s too much to manage on your own and will want to hire professional help for some of the responsibilities.

Or, you may decide that you’ll take care of things but need some help in figuring out how. If you choose to seek professional help, ask your friends or family members for recommendations.

If you decide to handle things on your own but need a little guidance, your Cooperative Extension Service can provide educational programs, literature, and answers about food and nutrition, family relationships, clothing and home care, and resource management. Many community senior centers also provide information and other support.

As far as managing your finances now that your husband has died, consider these tips from www.myvesta.org, a nonprofit consumer education organization:

  • Get at least a dozen copies of your husband’s death certificate. You will need the copies for a number of reasons, including working with your husband’s creditors. You may want to put each copy in individual envelopes when you receive them so that you can simply address and send them out as needed.
  • Order a copy of your husband’s credit report as well as your own. In most cases, the reports will be the same; however, there could be accounts on your husband’s report that you were not aware of. To order your husband’s credit report, you’ll need a copy of the death certificate and power of attorney or other documentation that you’re the executor of the estate.
  • Notify the credit reporting agencies of your husband’s death. They will eventually be notified by other agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, but notifying them yourself will speed up any interactions you may need to have with them.
  • Notify creditors of your husband’s death. Most creditors receive thousands of such notices each week. They also run their files against reports from the Social Security Administration using sophisticated software programs. Still, the fastest way for them to get this information quickly is for you to notify them. This should help reduce calls and letters addressed to your husband.
  • Remove your husband’s name from mailing lists. You can accomplish this by calling 1-888-5OPTOUT to have your husband’s credit file blocked from screening for pre-approved mailing lists. That way, pre-approved offers will no longer be sent to your husband’s name.

You may be wondering whether you’ll be responsible for any outstanding debts.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Joint unsecured accounts: These are loans such as credit cards or personal loans without collateral, and you are responsible for any joint accounts you and your husband shared. In spite of the stress you’re no doubt experiencing, try to keep up with payments so that you’re not charged late fees or an increase in interest rates.
  • Joint secured accounts: These are accounts where there is collateral (car or house) involved, and they become more complicated. If the loan is a joint loan, you could talk with the creditor about having the loan put solely into your name. If the loan is not a joint account, the heir of the property becomes responsible for repaying the debt or faces repossession of the property. Talk with creditors as soon as possible to avoid any potential problems.
  • Individual accounts: If your husband held individual accounts and you do not live in a community property state, you are generally not responsible for individual debts. However, the creditor may try to collect from the estate, if there are any assets in the estate. You’ll want to check any agreements your husband may have signed to see if it includes a clause regarding the death of the debtor.

For more information on grief and loss, visit Family Caregiving Relationships: Loss and Grief.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.