What to Do When a Loved One Dies

By Aimee Calderon, CFP®

It is a confusing and emotional time that you can’t fully prepare yourself for. When you lose a loved one, your mind is flooded with thoughts and emotions that make it hard to focus. What do I do? Who can help me? How am I going to get through this?

Many grieving spouses describe the days, weeks, and even months after their loved one dies as a fog. Eventually, slowly, the fog lifts and they adjust to their new normal. Following are tips and thoughts from our experiences with grieving clients that may help you answer the questions above.

“What Do I Do?”

Unfortunately, the laundry list of clerical items after the death of a loved one is long. Here are some of the most pressing tasks that need to be accomplished first.

  • Get a legal pronouncement of death. Typically, a doctor, hospice nurse, or paramedic can pronounce death. If the death occurs at home not under hospice care, you will need to call 911.

  • Arrange for transportation with a mortuary.

  • Notify family members and close friends.

  • Arrange care for dependents and pets.

  • Prepare an obituary if you would like one published

  • Arrange for memorial/burial/funeral services. Review the decedent’s wishes if they had them.

After the initial whirlwind of logistical items above, you will also need to take care of the following items.

  • Order multiple copies of death certificates.

  • Contact Social Security, employers, and any pension administrators.

  • Close out credit cards.

  • Check safe deposit boxes.

  • Collect any proceeds from a life insurance policy or survivor benefits.

  • Change title on all assets, including real estate.

  • Update estate plans and beneficiaries.

“Who Can Help Me?”

The lists above are just some of the crucial items that need to be taken care of. They can be absolutely overwhelming in times of grief. This is a time when you need to look for a support system. Sometimes family members can help, and other times family does not pull through. If you have a reliable friend who has been down this road, they can often be a great source of help. A trusted professional or team of professionals can be sought out as well.

A financial advisor can provide guidance in an emotionally turbulent time. Not only is a financial advisor experienced in the steps that need to be taken after death, they can provide education, support, and advice for a client who may not be familiar with handling their own finances. Many times, a grieving client just needs a sounding board because they’ve lost their partner with whom they made decisions. Other times, they need more practical help as they navigate the ups and downs of their new life.

It has been our honor to step in and help clients as they adjust to life without their loved one. There was the widow who came in every three weeks for us to balance her checkbook and help her pay her bills for the first year after her husband’s passing until she was able to take it over herself. Another client needed the emotional support that came with accompanying her to the attorney’s office to update estate plans. Yet another client sought our help in downsizing and buying a new home. There were many visits to our office where we spent time running numbers to reassure her that she could afford this new home and that it was a wise decision.

It is common for our widow clients to look to us to tell them how much they can spend. This may be one of their biggest financial concerns because their spouse was the one who held the purse strings. Now that their spouse is gone, they seek our guidance on spending. We can always show them the numbers, but we also try to educate and empower them so they can make the decisions themselves and feel confident in their ability to do so.

“How Am I Going to Get Through This?”

Many grieving clients have shared with us the daily struggle they go through after a loved one dies. The transition to life without the loved one can be difficult, unstable, and long.

Support groups are a great resource to utilize for help during this time of transition. Walking through the grief process with others who are in similar circumstances can be beneficial. Many churches and community centers offer grief support groups. A quick internet search of grief groups in Orange County returned dozens of results. Finding a group where you can openly share your story, receive advice, or just sit back and glean from others can be therapeutic.

In our support group that we host for widows, we have collected many pearls of wisdom from the widows themselves on how to cope with loss. Here are just a few:

  • Don’t put a timeline on your grief.

  • Find a way to distract yourself; watch TV, read a book, find a hobby.

  • Start a journal.

Our clients have enjoyed connecting with one another in this support group and have benefited from the advice and wisdom of others also dealing with grief. It has been an inspiration listening to our clients share their stories, struggles, and triumphs.

Grief is a part of life and something we will all experience. It is a testimony to the meaningful relationships we are blessed to form during our lifetimes. Grief is also an opportunity to learn from others who have gone through the process, share with others who are on the journey with us, and help others who will one day walk down the same road.

Schedule a 15-minute discovery call with a fee-only financial advisor to discuss your personal situation.

Aimee Calderon, CFP®