The unexpected loss of a loved one affects life deeply and in many ways. The emotional impact is significant, and coping with intense feelings makes it hard to address the logistical necessities that you could be facing, including actions to quickly manage your family's finances.
The specific steps you must take will depend on your circumstances and your relationship with the deceased. For example, the death of a spouse may require a fast response to keep the household afloat. After the death of a parent, you may have more time to adjust.
Here are some steps to take as you navigate this difficult time.
1. Claim Insurance Benefits
One of the most time-sensitive steps might be to claim benefits. That's especially true for surviving spouses in households that rely on an income that will no longer continue. It can take time to learn about your benefits, complete forms and wait on processing, so it's crucial to get the ball rolling quickly.
Investigate any death benefits available from workplace insurance and privately owned life insurance policies. You might also qualify for a survivor benefit from Social Security or a pension plan. Those resources can be complicated to understand, so don't hesitate to contact the Social Security Administration or your late spouse's employer for details.
2. Take Stock of Your Finances
Get familiar with your new financial circumstances. You need to understand your resources, such as income and assets, as well as any expenses you're responsible for. This may be particularly challenging for a surviving spouse who was not previously involved in the household's day-to-day finances. Even after the death of a parent, though, your financial reality may change in surprising ways.
To get a handle on your spending, review transactions from bank accounts and credit card statements. Most major expenses should appear there, and you can gather more details later as needed. Your bank account should also provide an overview of the household's take-home pay, giving you essential information for planning. When you know how your income matches up with your expenses, you're better-positioned to manage your finances and work toward goals.
You may need to learn new skills and concepts as you tackle financial tasks. If you need help, a financial professional can provide advice on a one-time or ongoing basis. Budgeting apps can also help you organize your life and get a handle on your finances. Whether you do it yourself or with somebody else's help, it's critical to create a plan for the future.
3. Pace Yourself
The unexpected loss of a loved one can be disorienting. It's normal to feel strong emotions, and experiencing distress can make it hard to make thoughtful decisions. You may be emotionally vulnerable after experiencing pain, so it's wise to use caution when it comes to your finances.
Although you may need to react quickly to keep your household in order, there are probably a variety of things that can wait. For example, depending on the level of estate planning involved, you may be fortunate enough to inherit a substantial amount of money or receive a large death benefit. When that happens, you don't necessarily need to do anything right away. Whenever you eventually decide to act, you can deploy just a portion of your assets while reserving the remainder for other uses.
An unexpected death in the family will likely affect your finances as well as your feelings. It's understandable to feel challenged during this transition, and you don't necessarily need to figure everything out right away. Claim essential benefits and address pressing needs first — and then take time to adjust to this new reality. If you've never managed finances before, it is certainly a skill you can learn, and help is available if you need it.