Liam Croke: Five financial steps to take following the death of a spouse

There is probably no other event more traumatic and devastating than the death of a child or a partner.

There is probably no other event more traumatic and devastating than the death of a child or a partner.

Trying to deal with the aftermath on just an emotional level is obviously horrendous. What doesn’t help the grieving and healing process is the financial impact their death could have on the person they leave behind.

Trying to make sense or even begin to think of what to financially do next is something people who have recently lost a partner find difficult to get their head around, which is why the support of friends and family is so important.

I have put together what I feel are the five critical steps that should be taken in the immediate aftermath of a partner’s death.

Gather important documents

Gather things like life assurance policies, a copy of a will, if one was made, bank statements, pension documents etc ... When you have all of them, contact your solicitor, financial advisor, bank official to see what your next steps are.

This is where you will need the help of a trusted friend or family member to help and support you.

You need someone who can ask questions on your behalf, and who can listen and understand what a solicitor, bank official or social welfare officer is telling you about what needs to be done next and why.

If your partner didn’t make a will, they die intestate and their estate is distributed in accordance with the rules set out in the 1965, Succession Act. An administrator to their estate has to be appointed and that can be you or your solicitor and the process of being formally approved.

Having authority over a deceased partner’s estate is not an easy one because you have to go through a number of steps and complete a number of forms.

Contact life assurance firm and pension administrators

If your spouse had a life policy and you are the beneficiary you must contact the life company straight away and find out what needs to be done to get the proceeds from the policy.

If you were the owner of the policy you could get access to funds within a couple of weeks. If the policy was just in their own name, you will eventually get access to the money but not until after their estate has been legally formalised.

At a minimum any life company is going to require a death certificate, to prove your spouse is deceased along with other paperwork so find out what is required.

For some people, especially in the short term, the proceeds from a life assurance policy can be the bulk of their income, so finding out what needs to be done and acting without delay is very important.

Apply for any benefits you may be entitled to

If your spouse dies and they were already in receipt of certain social welfare payments, you can continue to receive this payment for six weeks following their death, provided they included a payment for you. Even if you were in receipt of a separate payment in your own right i.e. state pension, you will get theirs for six weeks as well.

You could also be entitled to a widow(er)’s contributory pension, provided you or your deceased spouse had enough PRSI contributions.

You may also be entitled to a bereavement grant which is a once-off payment of €635 and there are other payments available (widowed parent’s grant which is a once off payment of €2,700 made to widows or widowers with dependent children who qualify already for certain other payments) particularly if your income is very low or if your spouse died as a result of a fire or any other disaster.

Whatever your circumstances you should contact your Social Welfare office and let them know first of all that your spouse has died and then ask what you might be entitled to and how you go about making a claim for whatever you are.

Make adjustments to your monthly budget

Have a look at your monthly outgoings and see first if there were any organisations or clubs that your spouse was a member of where the subscription to be a member of, was automatically deducted from your account each month or year. You need to cancel these memberships and direct debit payments straight away.

You might be going from a two income household to just one, or indeed you could be going from a situation where your deceased partner was the only person earning an income at the time of their date so you really do need to sit down with someone to get a handle on your monthly outgoings so you can make adjustments to reflect your new situation.

This is not a nice exercise but an important one to see what you are up against. If you don’t you are prone to making rash, emotional and drastic decisions that they later regret.

Update your own will and if you don’t have one, write one!

It really isn’t pleasant having to go through the legal process of handling your deceased spouse’s estate. It is both physically and mentally draining for all concerned and putting a valid will in place for yourself isn’t just about making it easier for those who will have to look after your estate when you die, but your estate might need changes anyway following the death of your partner.

When your partner’s estate is about to be finalised, maybe you should conclude it by making your own will. It won’t be difficult and is not time consuming and I am sure the solicitor acting for your late partners estate would be happy to do it for you at no charge either.