Coping with spouse's death


Let us take a moment and focus on planning for the loss of your spouse.

After a Spouse’s death, will you be prepared to handle ALL of the aspects of living – maintenance, bills, relationships, calendars, investments, social and religious?

There are some steps you can take now to make it a bit easier:

  • Make sure your spouse has a will and that you know where the original is kept. If your spouse does not have a will, then push, hard, to get one done. DO NOT USE a will form that you download from the internet. Spend the time and money to go to an attorney and do it right. A poorly written will can be worse than no will at all, and that is saying something.
  • Make sure you have good credit in your name. If you are a woman, then you know that there is an entire generation who never had to open accounts in their own name. When your spouse dies, his credit will die with him. If you do not have a credit history, then get one. Open a bank account in your name only. Get a credit card in your name and charge on it. Change one or more of the utilities in your name.

Start paying all of the household bills.

  • Make sure bank and investment accounts are in both of your names, as co-owners, and with the right of survivorship. If there is an account that is only in your spouse’s name, then find out if you are the beneficiary on it.
  • If you live in Texas, or one of the other community property states, then remember that everything that is owned by you or your spouse is presumed to be community property. That means when your spouse dies, ½ of everything goes into his or her probate estate.
  • Get a list of log-ins and passwords. If there is a computer, make sure you have the password to get into it! Same with your spouse’s phone and tablet.
  • If you have a home safe, then get the combination or find the key.
  • If you have a safety deposit box, make sure you have the key (or password) and can get into it without your spouse.
  • Know where copies of your federal tax returns are kept. Meet the CPA and the financial adviser.
  • Compile a list of assets and debts that belong to you and your spouse. Make a list of income by source. Figure out what income you will lose if your spouse dies.
  • Get copies of polices: life insurance, annuities, job benefits.
  • Get a list of contacts to help you repair or replace: plumber, mechanic, electrician, lawn maintenance. Find the warranties and instructions.
  • Figure out the funeral arrangements. Get them in writing.
  • If your spouse owns firearms, get the details on each.
  • Compile contact information for people to notify when your spouse dies.

Write the obituary ( or have your spouse do it).

This may sound like tough duty, but it is all necessary.

Virginia, a 1982 SMU law school grad, has advised clients for over 35 years. For more information, visit, and for newsletter sign-up, email This column does not constitute legal advice.