If your reading this your whole world has turned upside down whether you are the widowed or the support system seeking guidance. Hours can be spent combing the internet for answers to your “where do I go from here questions” because the majority of people in your life won’t be able to tell you. Not only is this a different type of grief, the legal matters widows face is drastically different than losing someone else in your life. As far as most laws and regulations go, you are basically now the spouse that you lost. You now own all their property, bank accounts, gym memberships, rental properties, storage spaces, along with State, Federal and student loan debt. People don’t realize this when they come to you with their hands out asking for anything your spouse monetarily left behind. You will feel like staying home in bed but you have a lot of work to do which brings me to my first point.
Disclaimer: The following tips are suited towards widows that were legally married simply because the legal ramifications are much greater. If your life partner has passed you must coordinate matters such as these with their next of kin especially to get documents that will help your child in the future. This advice is based on my personal experience and many other widows arround me. Please use your best judgment for what is best for your family.
I know you will feed your child(ren) but you will absolutely forget about your proper nutrition. A bottle of alcohol doesn’t count sorry. Drink water, and eat balanced meals even if you need to start with small snacks. I get it because I was there three years ago, I was 235lbs with zero appetite. My mom would call to check on me and ask “when was the last time I ate?” to which I could never answer. Hopefully, people will bring over food so you need to have some, even if its a small bite at a time.
2 Assign the Person to Take Your Phone Calls
You will be berated with an insane amount of phone calls and I can tell you 98% of those calls can wait. Family and friends you haven’t spoken to in years, your exes on the prowl, people you barely know will call about the most random things and it can all wait. They will see you at the funeral and repass, speak to them then. Have a parent or close friend take your phone right now and instruct them to only give it to you for:
- Your spouse’s job concerning paperwork
- Your spouse’s immediate family (unless they are blaming you for their death)
- Your family pastor
- The hospital morgue/funeral director
- The Police if this applies
- The IRS (well actually they write but be prepared, more on that later)
- Your job concerning your paperwork
- Very Important People, those folks giving you hundreds and thousands of dollars. You will want to take the time to express thanks and let them know how you are.
3 Hire a Good Funeral Director
A good funeral director will make sure you don’t leave out any details of the funeral, burial and even ordering death certificates while helping you stay on budget. I can’t remember a single thing I spoke with my funeral director with. To date, I still haven’t placed my husbands grave marker and now that I am ready to do so I called up the funeral director. She is actively helping me design the plaque which will need space for two names. Apparently, she made sure I paid for an additional burial spot so that when I pass my son can place me there. I am so grateful for this because I wouldn’t have had the where-with-all to make that decision on my own.
4 The Death Certificate
Order a minimum of 6 death certificates and if you can order 10. When submitting information to either close or transfer accounts you will need to have the death certificate. In some situations, they require the original copy to be held. My helpful funeral director made sure I had done this. Your spouse family may also need a copy for legal purposes as well. Technically they can order their own but give them one especially the parents left behind, it’s the right thing to do.
5 Go to the Social Security Office
Unfortunately, people go on the prowl when someone dies so you need to get to the social security office right away. Here is what to bring:
- Your child(ren)
- Your ID/passport, birth certificate, and social security card
- Your Spouse ID/passport, birth certificate, and social security card
- Your child’s ID/passport, birth certificate, and social security card
- Your marriage certificate
- The spouse death certificate
- Your W2, pay stubs and bank statements
- Proof of address ie utility bills
They will release $255 to you for funeral cost. Then based on your spouse working history and your income, you will receive what would have been their retirement social security. Whether or not you’re eligible to receive the monthly check, any children under the age of 18 will receive benefits. They will instruct you on the type of bank account you need to open for your child and you have to keep them updated every few months about how the money is spent.
6 Communicate With Your Childs School
Your child will be given time away from school and work assignments sent home. Once they return typically a school social worker supports your child in any emotional needs. My son’s school social worker at that time arranged a free family counseling service for me and DJ that we ended up attending for over a year. Every one of my son’s teachers and administrators at that time checks up on us until this day. You never know the impact the school’s staff will have on your life.
7 Access the Damage
This is the most annoying but very important thing you need to do which is, address what you will or need to do with every account and debt your spouse could possibly have. Write the accounts down and make note of that current date. No one else can do this for you, prepare for some long days and years ahead. Have your spouse death certificate with you at all times. As an example, I had to physically go to my husband’s gym, his spare storage locker office and call the rental car membership company he had. They were now my accounts I was responsible for and they gave me the option to do what I wanted. You may forget some things but eventually, you need to deal with it. My husband was called for jury duty last month despite all the times I reported him deceased. A fellow widow friend of mine told me he had to eventually walk into the office and handle my very situation after years and years of trying to call them. Don’t leave a stone unturned though, any debt collectors are coming for you, trust me!
Needless to say, the financial fears will come flooding because you have just lost one income in the house. Pick up your spouse last check and any other monetary assets you can set aside. Make a long-term plan for how you will sustain your new financial situation. You might be in a position where you suddenly have to pay all this debt. The opposite might be true and you may be blessed with extra money that helps tremendously, budgeting still applies. By the way, you will be filing your spouse taxes too for a couple of years. Call the IRS and rip off the band-aid and see what they need from you.
9 Sign Up For Counseling
I highly recommend group family counseling. The parents supporting the parents and the children supporting the children under the guidance of a health professional will be your saving grace. Speak with a social worker or doctor so they can help you find one in your area. There are even fun meetups for parents to have a night out at the bar. I go to a co-ed and an all women’s widow meet up. One experience that will change your life is the grief sleepaway camps for the kids. Me and DJ went Camp Erin who hosts a parent retreat on the opposite side of the lake while the kids are at camp. Check out the HBO documentary “One Last Hug: Three Days at Grief Camp” It gives you a good idea of what the experience is like at Camp Erin. The best part is all of these services are FREE!
10 Stay in Tune with Your Child
Your child will process grief in their own way and it’s important to try your best not to check out while with them. This is damn near impossible at this moment. Yes, your child looks and acts just like the spouse you lost, sure your child is either laughing, angry or silent all the time and you don’t know what to do. Know that they love you and are terribly afraid to lose you too. This has been what every single widow I know experienced. Find ways to connect somehow and guard them against other people trying to tell them what to feel and think. You guys have a long road ahead so buckle up, this roller coaster of life will hit you with things you’d never expect and you will need each other.