The New Widow Checklist

When you exchange the title of wife for widow, overnight, life becomes overwhelming. Suddenly, you’re on a journey without a roadmap. On top of grieving the one you love, there are many important “next steps” requiring your attention. 

Next, a fog will begin to settle in allowing you to put grief on hold as you transition into widowhood. This doesn’t mean that you won’t grieve because you will, you definitely will, but the shock and denial stage provide the grace needed to take care of business.

Every “next step” requires a lot of emotional energy. Over and over again, you will have to tell someone–a utility company, banking institution, or credit card agency–that your husband died. This is especially difficult because it still feels like shocking news to you!

The “next step” I recommend every widow take early on is to find an advocate – a trusted friend who will walk by your side during these first few weeks. Someone who will organize a plan and help check off the list. Someone who will affirm your courageous steps and wipe your tears. And eventually, your advocate can help you form a support system.

Knocking out the checklist below will take some time. In fact, meetings, phone calls, and paperwork can consume three to six months. Even though you will feel like a deer in the headlights with so much unknown, you will make it through this tedious season, one step at a time.

A sample list of “Next Steps” 

  1. Start a file to keep track of everything and include the following:
    • Insert this checklist as your guide.
    • Calendar for appointments (be sure to cancel appointments that are no longer necessary)
    • Emergency contact information
    • Account numbers
    • Social Security numbers
    • Driver’s license
    • Passwords
    • Make a list of everything with your husband’s name on it. One by one, you will need to change joint accounts into your name.
  2. Locate the will and get in touch with the executor to start executing the will. If there is no will, you will need to probate the will.
  3. Life insurance (if applicable): 
    • Contact your agent or the company immediately so that funeral expenses will be covered. The funeral home will make the connection with the company.
  4. Contact both your husband’s and your employers:
    • Your employer: 
      • Employer bereavement benefits – Ask if you have bereavement benefits that allow for a paid leave of absence.
    • His employer:
      • Check with your husband’s employer to see if there is a company life insurance policy in place for your husband.
      • Health insurance (if you are on his plan) – check the status of your health insurance and get the dates for when any changes would apply. Normally, there is a grace period, but you want to know the exact dates for these changes. Make note of any outstanding payments due.
    • Get the current information on his 401K accounts.
    • Investment accounts – if there are joint accounts, you will need to change to your name only.
  5. Death Certificates: You will need to present an original copy of the death certificate when changing names on your accounts and billing. Get more than you think you will need (approximately 5-10) because it’s easier to get them in the beginning than to have to order more. 
  6. Plan the memorial. 

Once the death certificates have been received, you can move forward with the following:

  1. Contact Social Security: Be sure to have both of your Social Security numbers on hand.
  2. Banking: Make an appointment to discuss all accounts transferring everything into your name.
  3. Debt:
    •  List all outstanding debt i.e. mortgage, automobile loans, or credit cards
    • Credit and debit cards: Make a list of all cards. Notify each one of your husband’s death. Ask if there is an insurance policy that will pay off the account when the cardholder dies.
    • Utilities: Normally both names must be on the account in order for you to make changes. Service might need to be discontinued and then restarted again with just your name on the account.
  4. Cell phone:  Back up all pictures and voice recordings so they are not accidentally deleted. The sound of his voice and the pictures will be a treasure to you.
  5. Take this list one day at a time

“Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).