Super Lawyers
Justia Lawyer Rating
Million Dollar Advocates Forum
The American Board Of Certification:

6 Things You Should do When Your Spouse Dies

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

Losing a loved one at any time is never an easy experience to go through. This is even more difficult when you lose your spouse.

Having practiced as an Idaho estate planning lawyer for over 20 years, I often get questions from family members and spouses about what it is they should do when a spouse passes away. This question usually comes at a time when the spouse and other family members are under immense emotional strain because of the loss of their loved one. I’ve been through this myself and totally understand the feelings of loss, and the emotional impact that exists.

The purpose of this article is to give you a short summary of the six things that you should do when your spouse dies. Even though this list is not exhaustive, and there are many other things that could and should be considered and done, these six things are the most important things you can do immediately after your spouse passes away.

1. Get Several Death Certificates

First, get several Certified copies of the Death Certificate. How many you need will depend upon your personal circumstances. However, I would recommend that you get a minimum of five copies. If you know you will need more then certainly order more.

If you determine that you need more later, you can always order more. At the time of writing this article (September 2020) Certified Death Certificates cost about $16 a piece and they are prepared by the Idaho Bureau of Vital Statistics. Additionally, many funeral homes will make a request and obtain these death certificates for you as part of the fee they charge.

As you will see from other sections below, a Death Certificate is required in several instances. These could be with creditors, or with certain third parties who you are dealing with because of contracts, accounts, or for other reasons.

2. Talk to Your Spouse’s Employer

The next thing we would suggest is that you immediately talk with your spouse’s employer. The reason for this is that there may be unpaid wages that are owed to your deceased spouse that you can obtain. Additionally, many employers provide life insurance policies on their employees as a benefit. Furthermore, you will need information from the employer to deal with such things as retirement accounts, pensions, and retrieving your spouse’s personal items that may be located at work.

3. Pull Together All Financial Documents

Next, you should pull together all your financial documents. This would include all debts that currently exist. It would also include any bank accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, and insurance policies for which you have any paperwork.

You should monitor all joint accounts that you had with your deceased spouse. Doing this makes sure that no unauthorized transactions occur. You will also need to contact all these financial institutions to remove your spouse’s name as an account owner on these accounts. This doesn’t need to be done immediately but is important to be done within a month or so of your spouse’s death.

Usually, spouses are jointly liable for all debts that exist in a marriage. But this is not always the case. If your spouse had any separate debts that only their name was associated with, then you need to contact that creditor and let them know immediately of the passing of your spouse. In some instances, the creditor may write the debt off. In other instances, the creditor may make a claim during the probate of the debt that exists so that it will be paid by the estate.

4. File a Claim with Insurance Company and/or Retirement Account Administrators

Additionally, if you are aware of any life insurance policies or retirement accounts that your spouse had you should immediately contact these companies and file or make a claim. Usually this results in them forwarding a packet of documents to you that need to be filled out and provided back to them.

It’s important to understand that you are required to make an effort to get this done. Life insurance companies and retirement account administrators usually don’t seek you out. Rather, to make a claim, you usually must seek them out and provide proof of the death of your spouse to begin the process. This would include providing them with a copy of the Death Certificate.

5. Wait a While Before Making any Major Decisions

Perhaps the most important thing that you can do immediately following your spouse’s death is to not make any major decisions. Do not make any decisions about whether you need to move. Do not make any decisions about whether you need to sell major items of property such as the house, or cars, or any other items that belong to the estate. There is plenty of time to make these kinds of decisions later.

Sometimes well-meaning family members, or in other instances individuals who are trying to take advantage of you, will try to convince you that you need to make an immediate decision about some important thing. You don’t. There is plenty of time to make those decisions later.

Typically, debts that are owed do not need to be paid instantly. This means that you will not lose your house, you will not lose your car or have any other bad thing happen to you while you sort through the things that need to be done after your spouse passes away. So just step back, take a breath, and give yourself a little time to think about and make any important or major decisions.

6. Meet with an Experienced Probate Attorney

Keep in mind that this article is just a short summary of the things that should be considered. It’s designed to help you get started but is not necessarily the only resource that you should consult. In fact, if you have lost a spouse, then you should meet with an experienced probate attorney.

A good probate attorney has been through this process many times. They understand those things that need immediate attention and those things that do not. More importantly, an experienced probate attorney can answer all your questions and help you understand any of the steps that need to be completed now that your spouse has passed away. Additionally, an experienced probate attorney can protect you from those who are ignorant of what needs to be done or those who may try to take advantage of you during this vulnerable time.

We provide all of our clients with a free 30-minute consultation where we meet with them personally, answer any questions they have, and then talk about whether a probate is needed and if so, what the probate process is that needs to be done. We do this during our free 30-minute consultation so our clients can leave knowing they have all the information they need to make a decision about what they need to do and whether they would like to hire us to help them get it done.

If you have recently lost a spouse, we encourage you to contact us today. We have helped numerous clients through this process, and we are confident that we can help you too!


Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho estate planning problems.

Client Reviews
"When it comes to our business work, we trust Racine Olson.” Premier Technology Inc.
“Randy has been our family’s attorney for many years. I’ve not only retained Randy to help with our family business, but I’ve used Randy and his firm in more than one complicated issues. I’ve never been disappointed.” Shawn - Previous Client
"Pat George, well there is so much I can say…. EXCELLENT lawyer! He leaves no stones unturned. If you are in need of an excellent Lawyer I would highly recommend Pat George. He turned a life threatening accident into a life changing event.” Personal Injury Client
"The attorneys here are just fantastic my dad and I are big fans…they are the best in Pocatello. I have lived in Poky my whole life” Previous Client
“I had been to many other law firms concerning my case. They were willing and able to help me out and I feel confident that they will do what is best for me.” Previous Client
"Fred Lewis is very knowledgeable, courteous, and efficient in explaining everything you need to know to help you win your case. He truly cares about you as a person and is on your side." Workers' Compensation Client