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Things You Should Do When Your Spouse Dies

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

Having worked as an estate planning attorney for the last 22 years, I know with certainty that the only sure thing about life is death. Each of us has or eventually will lose a family member or someone else we love. This is part of why having a well-thought-out estate plan is so important. 

Throughout your life, your own estate plan can protect you while you are alive through documents such as a durable power of attorney, living will, and a power of attorney for healthcare. Additionally, your estate plan can provide for your family members and loved ones after you die through your last will and testament or a trust or multiple trusts that you may have for your own estate. 

If you haven’t yet created your own estate plan, the best way to start is with organizing all your information in one place so that it can be easily understood. To do this, we recommend you use our free Estate Planning Questionnaire. This is an easy and organized way of compiling all your information that should be considered when creating your own customized plan.

We then encourage you to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with us. During this meeting we can answer all your estate planning questions. This also gives us an opportunity to explain how your estate plan can protect you while you are alive and your family members and loved ones after you pass away. 

Sometimes, however, it’s not our own death that we need to be prepared for. Rather, sometimes, the most difficult death we are faced with is when we have a spouse pass away. The situation of losing a spouse is the focus of today’s article. More specifically, this article is focused on the things you should do when your spouse passes away. 

Locate the Important Documents You Need

The first and most important thing that you can do is make sure that you know where all the important documents are that you will need. This of course will include knowing where the original last will and testament is for your deceased spouse. There are other important documents that you will also need. 

You will also need to locate and keep track of any life insurance policies that your deceased spouse had. Further, if your spouse had any retirement accounts, such as a 401k or an IRA or a pension of some sort, you will need information related to those as well. Having these documents available to you will make it much easier for you to contact these entities and make an application to receive these benefits.

Additionally, you should also have all the information you need for your own banking and other investment accounts. This would include any checking accounts, savings accounts, any CDs you have, as well as any investment accounts that you might have with a brokerage or other institution that are not related to retirement. 

You should also collect and pull together any documentation you have related to any debts that you and your spouse were paying on. This would include any mortgages, or car payments, as well as any student loan payments, credit card payments, and your regular monthly bills such as utilities, phone, and the internet. Having this information well organized and easy to access will ease your mind that nothing is being missed. 

Speak With an Experienced Attorney

After getting all your documentation together, the next most important thing you can do is speak with an experienced attorney. I have found that most of the anxiety and worries that come up after a spouse passes away have to do with not knowing what needs to be done. I called this the fear of the unknown. 

I offer a free consultation to a surviving spouse and other family members when a spouse passes away. The purpose of this free meeting is to talk about the probate process, and to answer any questions the surviving spouse and other family members have. My experience is that at the end of this meeting most of my clients tell me how relieved they are to have met with me and to discuss what needs to be done. 

As an attorney, I don’t expect my clients to understand the processes and steps that need to be taken when a spouse passes away. It is my job to understand these things and to help my clients through them when needed. 

I would caution you to make sure that you are speaking with an experienced attorney. There are many “general practitioner” attorneys who claim to be able to do many different areas of the law, such as divorces, business law, personal injury lawsuits, malpractice claims against doctors, and so forth. However, my experience is that the more areas of law an attorney tries to do, the less well they are able do any of them. To best illustrate this point, you wouldn’t go to a foot doctor if you are having heart trouble. In a similar way, if you have questions about estate planning or probate, then you should speak with an experienced attorney that specializes in and focuses on estate planning and probate. 

Take Time to Grieve

The final important thing that you should do after you’ve completed the steps listed above, is to simply take the time you need to properly grieve. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up on all the things that need to be done that you don’t take time to do the things that should be done, which includes grieving for your deceased spouse. 

The most important thing that you can do is to take care of yourself. Because everyone grieves differently, this may require you to seek some counseling, or time away from the other issues that need to be taken care of. Only you know how you work. Because of this, don’t let other people talk you into doing things that you don’t yet feel ready to do. Also, don’t let other people dictate to you how you should grieve. Take the time you need to process what has happened, and how it affects your life and to grieve in the way that you need to.

As I mentioned above, if you do have questions or concerns, we encourage you to contact us for a free 30-minute consultation. We have assisted many clients through all the things that need to be done when a spouse passes away. We are confident that we can help you too! 

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

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.

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