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A financial to-do list for the recently widowed

By Carla Hindman, Director of Financial Education, Visa Canada

Losing your spouse is one of life's most stressful events. Unfortunately, it's during that time of grief, when you're probably not thinking clearly or ready to focus on such matters, that you're expected to make many important financial decisions that will impact the rest of your life.

Although there are certain actions you must take right away to ensure your current financial security, major decisions with long-term consequences should probably be postponed until you've had a chance to reflect on how – and where – you want to spend the rest of your life.

If your spouse primarily handled the finances or you're not up to the task alone, ask a trusted relative or friend to help you sort out the following information:

  • Gather legal and financial documents that will give a better sense of where you stand financially, including: wills, trusts and powers of attorney; mortgage and car title; tax returns; bank, loan and credit card statements; safe deposit box contents; insurance plans; and income sources.
  • Compile outstanding bills and monitor due dates to avoid late charges or penalties for: utilities; mortgage/rent; health, auto and homeowners insurance premiums; car, student and personal loans; and credit cards.
  • If your spouse was still working, contact his or her employer regarding unpaid salary, benefits, life insurance and retirement accounts. This is particularly important if you are covered under your spouse's group benefits plan.

Other critical actions to take within the first month or two include:

  • Contact companies where you have joint accounts and convert them to your name only. Also close any accounts that were in his or her name only that you don't wish to maintain.
  • Inform government agencies, such as Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Service Canada, about your spouse's death and if there are any necessary documents that must be submitted on their behalf, including a final tax return (note: a final return is required by the CRA; you may also be eligible to fill out other optional returns on your spouse's behalf. For more information about this and other CRA requirements, please refer to: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/ndvdls/lf-vnts/dth/menu-eng.html).
  • If your spouse made contributions to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), you may be entitled to receive Canada Pension Plan survivor benefits. For more information on this, please visit http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/isp/cpp/survivor.shtml#requirements.
  • If your spouse's death was accidental or sudden, there may be additional benefits attached to home, auto or health insurance policies. It may be worth the extra research.

Don't make irreversible financial decisions until you've had a chance to adjust to your new status. For example, some people rush to pay off their mortgage, only to realize later that the house is too large or they can't afford the taxes and upkeep. Others feel pressured to move closer to family members, only to discover that they miss their former life.

A few long-range planning suggestions:

  • Rewrite your will and other documents that outline how you'd like your financial and health matters handled if you die, become disabled or seriously ill.
  • Until you have a better handle on your new living expenses, live frugally – especially if you're used to having two incomes.

And finally, consider hiring a financial adviser to help ensure your financial assets are taken care of for the future. Friends, family and financial institutions can be a great first step to finding a reliable source for financial advice.




This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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