Checklist – What to do when your spouse dies

  1. Get 5-6 copies of death certificate from the funeral director.
  2. Contact Social Security to report death and apply for lump sum death benefit ($255) and possible increase in Social Security for you.
  3. You will continue to have access to all jointly-held accounts and safe-deposit boxes. There is usually no need to change those joint accounts immediately. If any accounts are in your spouse’s name individually, ask the financial institution for a form affidavit you can to give you access; close out if possible. If you can’t get access by affidavit on a form furnished by the financial institution, you’ll have to wait until an estate representative is appointed and will likely need to see an attorney for that. LSED does not do estate work. If you don’t have a lawyer, call the Erie County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (716) 852-3100 or follow this link.
  4. If your spouse was a Veteran, call the VA for burial and other benefits.
  5. Make claims on all life insurance policies and other assets naming you as beneficiary. Roll over IRAs etc. into your name.
  6. Contact current and all former employers, unions, professional groups notifying them of death and asking about possible death benefits, insurance, pensions etc.
  7. Contact health insurance carrier to inform of death; try to stay on policy if you are covered and do not have other insurance.
  8. Usually no immediate need to transfer title of real property held as husband and wife. If there is real property or an interest in real property owned by your spouse individually, you will need to see an attorney to have an estate representative appointed. LSED does not do estate work. If you don’t have a lawyer, call the Erie County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (716) 852-3100 or follow this link.
  9. Cancel credit cards in spouse’s name and notify the company of death. See if any credit or loan accounts had life insurance.
  10. See accountant or tax preparer in January after death to complete tax returns.
  11. Get help from your family, if possible. Don’t make any major changes in your life; you’ve had enough of them. Don’t buy new financial products with money you may receive until you have time to get advice you trust.
  12. Cancel your spouse’s travel reservations, appointments, subscriptions, recurring charges etc. Try to get any deposits back or collect on any relevant insurance.
  13. Hold on to check registers, cell phone etc. for possibly relevant information.
  14. If any vehicles are in your spouse’s name individually, contact DMV for Title and Registration change forms. Contact car and homeowners insurance carriers regarding death.



Death Certificates (5-6 certified copies)
Social Security Card
Marriage Certificate
Birth Certificate
Birth Certificate for each child, if applicable
Insurance Policies
Deed and Titles to Property
Stock Certificates
Bank Books
Discharge Papers for a Veteran and/or V.A. Claim Number
Recent Income Tax Forms and W-2 Forms
Automobile Title and Registration Papers
Loan and Installment Payment Books or Notes


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