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Changing Account Ownership: Part 7 of Financial Considerations When You Lose Your Spouse


“If you love deeply, you’re going to get hurt badly. But it’s still worth it.” C.S. Lewis

Talk about a romantic love story – C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman embody it. Perhaps your own romance isn’t quite as spectacular – or public – as theirs, but you still have a story that resonates deeply. And when your spouse passes away, even though the love never changes, the change that results from physical loss is painful. Most of the time, dramatic changes are hard for people, and with the disruption you can feel confused and paralyzed.

What are some of the initial, financially related changes you need to take if you lose your spouse to keep yourself safe? 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 7: Changing Account Ownership.

Jointly Held Bank, Credit Union, Brokerage, and Other Accounts

For your jointly held bank and brokerage accounts, you don’t need to be in a rush to change things. For example, a Wells Fargo bank account with both of you as the owners is as much yours as your spouses. Eventually you will need to make the change to have just your name on the account statements and the checks, but since these accounts are in both of your names, you will continue to have complete access to them.

Accounts Just in Your Spouse’s Name

Accounts that are not in your name are trickier. It is not legal for you to sign your deceased spouse’s name on checks or take actions in the spouse's name on accounts that are soley theirs. The entity may have a way that you as the spouse can provide a death certificate and complete paperwork to make the change, or you may need to wait until probate is completed. If the account owes money, you can always make payments or deposits using your own funds.

Health Insurance through Your Spouse

If your health insurance is through your spouse’s work, you will be able to continue with that insurance (usually at a higher premium cost) for at least 18 months while you find your own. You would let the HR department know, and they will help with that.

Changing Account Ownership: Important Cancellations

As soon as you feel you are ready, it is important to take the steps to cancel or close things like a driver’s license or security clearance. Also, be sure to let the three credit bureaus know (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and then in a month or two, check back with them to make sure there are no new, fraudulent accounts. Cancelling these things helps avoid possible identity theft.

AARP provides a helpful checklist to use. We’ll continue to cover FINRA’s tips for widows in the next few articles. Tip 8 discusses actions you might want to consider in reviewing your investments. Thank you for joining me.

Updated 4-6-24

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Phillip Lemmons
Phillip Lemmons
Jun 15, 2022

If Decedent had an Agent under Power of Attorney, Trustee of Family Trust, or Conservator: Notify any and all of power of attorney agents, trustees and conservators of the decedent’s death; They may be useful in distributing funds for expenses or providing information about the decedent’s last wishes.

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