Updated: Feb 3
Rabbit holes – you feel as if you, like Alice, are falling into them, tripping over them, being overwhelmed by metaphorical rabbit holes of to-do’s and to-don’t’s as you proceed through this difficult time.
You aren’t trying to be greedy or grasping here, but you want to make sure you receive all the money and benefits you are entitled to as a result of losing your spouse. Some of them are obvious and relatively easy to get going, but today we’ll look at some of the more obscure benefits you might not think of and briefly cover ways to get them. In our series on how to manage finances after the death of a spouse, we’re exploring tips from FINRA, a reliable financial source. Today, Tip 5: Other Benefits to Check Into.
Term, universal, and whole life insurance pay a benefit after the death of the insured. If your spouse was insured, you will need to find the policy or at least the name of the insurance company and notify them of his death. The amount of time this can take and the number of calls or visits to the insurance agent can be surprisingly high. Insurance payments can be made monthly, quarterly, or yearly, and he may have randomly added in life insurance from different companies over the years, so you want to make sure you don’t miss any policies. Additionally, as discussed below, his place of employment, if he was a full-time, benefitted employee, will probably have covered him for $50,000 in life insurance and he may have been paying for more.
Check with his employer (probably the HR person, office manager, or benefits admin department depending on how big the company is) and expect to make many calls to get things straightened out. It can be helpful to enlist the help of a friend or to pay a CFP® financial planner to make these calls with you. Besides the company life insurance listed above, there may be unpaid salary and bonuses, vacation or PTO pay, funds in a medical flexible spending account, accidental death insurance, or stock options that are due to you. We’ll discuss the 401(k) in the next article.
Home Mortgage Insurance
Your spouse may have set up a type of life insurance that pays off the mortgage for the surviving spouse if one of you dies. That policy may be connected to other life insurance but can also be separate. It may have been something set up online, paid once a year, and not coming in through regular mail but rather via online notifications. You might have to scour old credit card or bank account records to see if you see a payment toward that benefit.
Small Business Considerations
Did your spouse have a side hustle, second job, or small business? Don’t forget to check into unpaid wages or other small benefits from these jobs. If he was a partner in a company or LLC, you will need to check in there as well to see what the operating agreement or formation papers specify about death of a member or owner.
Random Bank Accounts
Unless you were both involved in doing the finances or if he left a detailed notebook or list of where your collective money was and in which banks, there may be old accounts that still have some funds in them. For example, I kept about $500 in each of our old Navy Federal Credit Union accounts for about 30 years – purely for sentimental reasons since we started them when we were plebes at the Naval Academy. I finally closed them, but had I died before that, my husband probably would have missed out on that $1,000.
In 2020, statements for accounts don’t come by snail mail, so it can be hard to know where everything is and even what places money might be if your spouse didn’t keep a comprehensive list. The main stuff will be easy to find and track, but some of the smaller or older accounts might be elusive.
If your spouse is active duty, you’ll have lots of resources to count on and many places to turn. However, if your spouse has been out of the military for a long time, and especially if he was a reservist for many years, it will be harder to figure out and collect benefits you may be due, if any. A good place to start in the latter situation is at Military One Source. For veteran burial information, you can check here at USA.gov.
One source of “found money” is to be sure to cancel your spouse’s policies and subscriptions. Even though it feels as if the world has stopped – and yours certainly has for now – the bills and charges are still going to roll in with incessant regularity. You’ll need to keep paying them because your life is going on and you want to maintain your good credit score. But you no longer need to pay for his health insurance, long term care policy, gym membership, or his side of the mortgage cancellation insurance. It can be surprising that these bills may keep coming even after you’ve completed the requirement notifications.
We’ll cover FINRA’s tips for widows in the next few articles. Tip 6 offers suggestions on what to consider with your spouse’s 401(k) or IRA. Thank you for joining me.
Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner ™, adjunct professor, and financial literacy educator has written numerous articles and several books including the "11-Step, DIY, Comprehensive Financial Plan Workbook" and "Financial Advice for Blue Collar America." She works to help clients and readers understand and act on complex financial information to keep them and their money safe. She functions as a strong advocate and guiding light for her clients as they move through a murky and unfamiliar financial world.