What To Do When the Spouse Who Handles the Finances Dies First


What to do when the spouse who handles the finances dies first

The Wall Street Journal printed a great article on a subject close to our heart. Because of decades of experience, we are the preferred advisor to many widows.

Many marriages have a division of labor where one spouse is the primary manager of the family finances. The article had this to say about this scenario:

“It’s common for surviving spouses who took a back seat on money matters to find themselves with an incomplete picture of their net worth or where the accounts are held.”

To prepare for this, married couples should take the following key steps:

  • Hire an estate attorney to draft or update wills and other estate-planning documents.
  • Hire a financial advisor both spouses like and trust.
  • Set up bank and other financial accounts that a surviving spouse will need immediate access to. These should be in both spouses’ names or as “transferable on death” from one spouse to the other.
  • Order a copy of Before I Go and Before I Go Workbook

A surviving spouse should

  • Order at least 15 copies of the death certificate. These will be needed to retitle financial accounts and settle the estate.
  • Contact the financial advisor, the estate attorney, and the accountant, in that order.

It is almost inevitable and completely understandable that the surviving spouse will be overwhelmed during this time, so you’ll want to prepare a list of things to do in advance should this happen.

Your financial advisor is the one individual that the surviving spouse will have the closest relationship with. They will guide your CPA through your taxes once a year and your estate plans, which should be reviewed every few years.  It is to be expected that financial issues are ongoing and conversations will be frequent so if you are experiencing this, understand that it is completely normal.

  • If you don’t have an advisor already, you need to hire one who understands the needs of the surviving spouse and will provide holistic advice and guidance.
  • Find an advisor you feel comfortable with. A large percentage of widows end up firing advisors they inherit because they are not comfortable with their husband’s advisor.  
  • Find a financial advisor who is a fiduciary, or legally obligated to put your interests first, one who is willing to discuss your needs and who is not simply an investment manager.
Arie J. Korving, CFP Co-founder, Korving & Company 3


Arie J. Korving, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, has been delivering customized wealth management solutions to his clients for more than three decades. Prior to co-founding Korving & Company, he was First Vice President with UBS Wealth Management and held management positions with General Electric.

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