Survivor’s Checklist for Widows

This Survivor’s Checklist for Widows has been developed to help the new widow, or are expecting the passing of their husband, manage the requirements placed on them by the death of their husband.  We firmly believe that too many widows rush into making decisions which may be irreversible.  This checklist can help arrange those decisions into a now, soon or later.


  • __ If sudden and unexpected, contact necessary medical assistance and authorities.
  • __ Call a friend, neighbor, or relative to be with you as soon as possible.  As other loved ones arrive, have someone stay with you as much as possible.

The help of a small group of family and friends will ease the burden.  Have them assist you with the following:

  • __ Begin notifying family and friends, clubs, and organizations.  If you are providing transportation and lodging for people from out of state for the service, keep receipts of those expenses.
  • __ Call your doctor and advise him/her of your loss.  You might need a prescription to calm your nerves and help you sleep.
  • __ If you and your spouse had preplanned funeral services, contact the funeral home or the memorial society.  If not, decide on a memorial service and a final resting place for your spouse.
  • __ Create and publish an obituary.  Funeral homes often assist you with this task.
  • __ If your spouse was a Veteran, there are no cost burial arrangements and other benefits available for the funeral.  The funeral director or a loved one can contact the Veteran’s Administration at 800-827-1000 or online at
  • __ Make your wishes known for any services arranged.  Designate a friend or family member to keep track of the guestbook, donations, flowers and cards.  Have someone else take all phone calls and let you know who is calling.
  • __ Order at least 12 death certificates through the funeral director.
  • __ Ask a neighbor, security service or the police to keep an eye on your home while you are at the services.
  • __ It’s okay to take time for yourself and rest.  Let other’s help.

As a widow, allow yourself whatever privacy you need.  Go at your own pace.  Ask for help.  Many decisions need to be made but not all of them are urgent.  Reach out to family, friends, your financial advisor, or others in your community who may be able to help.

What’s urgent?

  • __ Contact your financial planner to review your cash flow and expenses.  Be sure your bills are covered for the next three to six months.
  • __ Contact your estate planning attorney and/or trustee so whatever legal process is required begins.
  • __ If you are not the estate executor or trustee, notify them so a inventory of your spouse’s property can be done.  Refrain from distributing any property to any family or friends at this point.
  • __ Begin collecting information so you can apply for various survivor benefits such as social security, veteran’s benefits, employee benefits, life insurance policies and annuity contracts.
  • __ If your spouse had a safe deposit box in his name alone, have the executor or trustee arrange to open it.  This will require a copy of the death certificate which takes time to obtain.
  • __ Do not pay any bills incurred by your spouse out of your personal account.  The estate is responsible for settling with all creditors.  However, if there are bills such as a mortgage payment on your home, be sure these are paid.  Discuss this with your financial planner.

Gentle focusing on what makes you feel better personally and taking small steps to make progress on addressing the business side will help calm you.

  • __ Develop a daily routine devoted to your well being.  Exercise, meditation, yoga and/or prayer are all soothing.
  • __ When you are feeling up to it, spend time with friends and family.
  • __ Get plenty of rest and good nutrition.  Do things on your timetable.
  • __ Open new accounts in your name before closing those of your spouse.
  • __ Do not rush to tell banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions about your husbands death — they may freeze those accounts.  You may loose rewards points as well.
  • __ Review your own estate plan as well as assets and liabilities with your estate planning attorney and/or financial planner.
  • __ Update documents and beneficiaries as necessary.  Re-title joint accounts.
  • __ Decide where to deposit various proceeds such as life insurance and recurring income.
  • __ Work with both your personal support team and professional advisors as you move through this period.  Do your best to create a calendar for your Now, Soon and Later lists.
  • __ Remember you are on a journey.  The resting places and restarts are part of your path.