Guidance for the recently widowed.

We recently experienced the sacred voyage of guiding a 95 year old father through his passage to the other side. We were both new to this experience and unprepared but feel honored to have been part this most holy and sacred event. He had lived a long and full life, and left behind his bride of 72 years. He died in the well appointed but modest home they had shared for over 60 years. A loving husband, he handled family finances with great pride and care. They lived frugally in order to ensure that the surviving spouse would live the last phase of life comfortably and secure.

Hospice care was a blessing but not flawless. One gap was not providing any support or guidance for the widow after dad’s last breath. It would have been a kindness to have provided a simple checklist of things to consider handling during the first weeks as a widow – or perhaps a list of services and resources that are available for the recently widowed. Fortunately, they had prepared wills and related end of life documents, and had made pre-paid funeral arrangements.

We are still absorbing dad’s rapid decline and relatively quick demise, and have not yet started the sensitive task of sifting through the mounds of file folders and financial information that he dutifully left behind. Mom is not connected to the electronic world – a place of total mystery to her -- and due to advanced deafness, talking on the phone is something she avoids. Others will need to be her voice for many of the tasks that befall a recent widow.

Gratefully, our mom's thinking is clear and her cognitive functioning intact. Any contacts made on her behalf will always be made with her permission and a clear understanding of her wishes and desires. We are mindful that we are only her voice, and no decisions can or should be made by anyone but her.

For those who might find themselves in a similar situation, we have pieced together a list of things that might need attention during the first weeks of widowhood -- either by the widow on her own or with help from others with her permission.

It might be helpful to gift a notebook to someone who is a recent widow. It can be used to keep track of things. Writing things down is important because the grieving process can interfere with memory. One section of the notebook can be used to keep track of any acts of kindness that the widow and family will want to acknowledge at some point – such as flowers, food, and memorials.

Here’s our checklist.

• Notify the Social Security Administration. If the departed was receiving social security benefits, this will ensure that benefits won’t be received that will need to be repaid. The widow might also be entitled to a small benefit to assist with funeral expenses. Funeral homes often make this phone call on behalf of the widow.

• Contact the Veterans Administration if the deceased is a veteran This also is something that funeral homes often do for you.

• Notify the deceased’s attorney. This may be the attorney who prepared the will but the widow might have another preference. The attorney can provide advice about probate proceedings and other legal documents that might be necessary to transfer assets (property, financial accounts, etc.) to the widow and any other heirs.

• Identify all life insurance companies that cover the death of the deceased. Contact them to notify them of the death, especially if policy premiums were still being paid. Payments for the premiums need to stop, and a claim for benefits made. A certified copy of the death certificate will be needed.

• Cancel newspaper and magazine subscriptions that the widow no longer wishes to receive. Cancelling them promptly will help avoid subscriptions being unnecessarily renewed.

• If the deceased has not yet filed income tax returns due around the time of his or her passing, make arrangements to have that done promptly. If an extension of time is needed, the form making that request might need to be filed quickly.

• Register with the National Do Not Call Registry to protect the widow from a barrage of phone calls that might be triggered by obituaries and other death notices.

• Check the deceased’s wallet for credit cards and membership cards. Sort through any mail that has accumulated and will be received, to identify any relevant to financial accounts, including bills that need to be paid.

• Consult with an attorney to understand a spouse’s obligation to pay the debts and final medical bills for the deceased (state laws vary).

• Contact the deceased’s car insurance agent to remove the deceased from policies, which might result in lower premiums.

• Review medical bills from hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers -- especially if the deceased's insurance policies don't cover them. Errors in these bills are a rampant problem -- generally, over billing.

• Cancel any Medicare supplemental health insurance policies that the deceased has been paying premiums on -- to cancel the premiums. This includes separate dental insurance and prescription insurance policies.

• Contact utility companies (electric, water, cable, phone, etc.) to change account to the widow's name -- this often requires closing out the current account and opening a new one.

• Contact the insurance company for any long term care insurance that the deceased carried, to inquire about benefit coverage and to cancel future premium payments.

• Cancel future dental and medical appointments that the deceased has pending.

Helpful websites

• Military Widows Checklist:

• Newly Widowed Checklist:

• A Guide for the Newly Widowed, AARP: