The death of a spouse is an almost unbearably difficult time. But there are many financial steps that you should take to assure that there is proper estate administration, your spouse’s wishes are followed, and your family’s financial interests are protected.

First steps

Your duties generally consist of settling the estate, providing notification to appropriate parties, signing up for benefits and preventing identity theft.

First, obtain 10 to 12 copies of the death certificate which will be needed to obtain benefits and fulfill other duties. The funeral home can help you get these certificates.

Locate the spouse’s will, living trust and other estate documents to begin the estate settling process. A probate case may have to begin at the county court.

Contact your spouse’s employer about life insurance policies, a 401(k) or other retirement accounts and their pension. Cancel the spouse’s health insurance. File a claim for any life insurance policies your spouse had.

Notify banks, brokerages, lenders, and credit card companies about the spouse’s death. Close accounts or transfer them to your name. Provide notification to the three major credit bureaus. Delete or document social media accounts to help prevent identity theft.

Seek information about survivor benefits from the Social Security Administration. If you were both receiving Social Security benefits, one set of benefits terminates when the spouse’s dies and the other spouse will begin to receive the larger benefit.

Actions to avoid

Property or money may be required to settle the estate and it may take time to make sound decisions on their allocation. Do not give these assets away prematurely even if you are getting pressure from family members or anyone else.

Making major changes, such as selling a home or moving, should be avoided for at least a year. Grief and other pending financial matters may impede sound decision making.

It is important to obtain professional assistance from an accountant or tax professional to prepare and file your spouse’s final tax return or decide on payout options from insurance and Social Security. An estate attorney can also assist with estate administration matters.