Losing a spouse disrupts your world in every way. Trying to remain organized is essential to maintaining your health and safeguarding your financial future.

Make sure you have at least 10 copies of the death certificate

The death certificate is an essential legal document for the surviving spouse. You cannot file for insurance or Social Security benefits, claim control of joint assets, or obtain your inheritance without a death certificate. Expect many different businesses and agencies to require a copy of the death certificate to respond to your requests and rights as a surviving spouse. Some organizations allow you to fax a copy of the death certificate to them, while others will require a certified copy.

Funeral homes often provide certified copies of the death certificate as part of their standard services. Certified copies also are available for a small fee from local government offices such as the Health Department or Register of Deeds.

Share copies of the death certificate only with organizations you know and trust. Remember that thieves can use a death certificate to "steal" the identity of you or your spouse to commit fraud. Keep extra copies of the death certificate in your safe or another secure location.

Other vital documents you'll need

Filing for insurance, benefits, and joint assets will require making contact with the appropriate organizations and then supplying vital documents. Be prepared by assembling this information

  • Insurance policies, which may include life, health, mortgage, auto, credit card, and accident policies. Check with your spouse's employer to see if there was workplace coverage. Coverage may vary depending on the circumstances and your personal situation, so be thorough. If your spouse is killed in a vehicle accident, for example, your policy may include a death benefit provision that delivers a lump-sum payment.
  • Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and dependent children.
  • Military discharge papers, required to apply for veterans' benefits. You can obtain a copy by contacting the National Archives at 866-272-6272 or online.
  • Birth certificates for dependent children, required to file for benefits such as Social Security payments.
  • Your marriage certificate, which allows you to apply for benefits related to your status as the surviving spouse.
  • The will, which allows you to begin the process of probate and claim ownership of some assets.
  • Documents that prove ownership of assets, ranging from IRAs (individual retirement accounts) to savings accounts at Global and other financial institutions to vehicles.

Contact us today for help during this difficult time.