The death of a spouse after decades of marriage is a staggering emotional loss for an older adult. The situation is made worse when the surviving spouse doesn’t know how to make financial decisions. And there are plenty of matters to resolve and questions to answer when a spouse dies. It can be too much for an overwrought individual who doesn’t understand how life insurance works, doesn’t know how to access money from their spouse’s will and hasn’t a clue how to take care of burial and funeral arrangements.
These are typical areas of concern when someone dies. If you have a senior loved one who doesn’t know where to turn, here are a few points to consider as you help them through what is likely the most difficult period in their life.
A life insurance policy can be a tremendous financial resource for your loved one. It can be used to help pay for leftover medical bills and funeral costs, and for living expenses in the wake of a spouse’s death. Many people are unaware that a life insurance policy can be sold to help pay for medical or end-of-life expenses or for long-term care if your relative is in need of assistance.
Legally empowering documents
Help your relative gather all the legal documents needed to process life insurance claims, execute a will, and file a Social Security death benefit claim (you’ll need copies of the death certificate). Gather all outstanding financial records, including the departed one’s remaining bills so you can determine what’s left to be paid and to help make temporary arrangements with creditors. Depending on the size of your loved one’s estate and the state of their finances, it may be helpful to discuss their situation with a financial planner, someone who has experience helping older adults monitor finances after the death of a spouse.
It’s likely that your departed relative’s estate can be used to help pay bills and final costs (e.g., funeral, burial) if he or she had a will. If you’re not sure how to proceed, reach out to their attorney for accurate information about final financial arrangements and how much your relative is due as a surviving spouse. They may need to make a new will of their own and delegate someone to hold durable power of attorney for finances and healthcare decisions.
Surviving spouses are often blindsided by debts left behind by their partner. With so many arrangements to make and final dispositions to pay for, your loved one may be left holding the financial bag if there’s insufficient money left over from the estate. Providing the copy of a death certificate and having a frank conversation with creditors can give a loved one enough breathing space to get all their affairs in order without doing irreparable damage to their credit and financial resources. Setting up automatic bill payment is often sufficient for creditors because it ensures they’ll be paid on a regular basis.
If your relative has been left with a large home, it may be time to talk about downsizing and seeking more manageable living arrangements. This may be a necessity if your loved one suffers from limited mobility or has health issues that make it difficult to clean and perform routine home maintenance.
Discuss downsizing options and preferences. If there’s enough equity in their home, they may gain enough from the sale to purchase a smaller house or move into an apartment or assisted living facility. (Be aware that downsizing necessarily means decluttering and getting rid of belongings, some of which may have emotional value.)
A bereaved elderly relative is probably in no condition to delve into the financial particulars of their departed spouse’s estate or make final disposition plans for their interment. A sympathetic, informed, and caring relative can be a blessing in such circumstances. Seek the advice of a financial expert in legal matters involving wills and physical legacies, such as real estate.
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