Death of a Spouse
The following are suggestions of people who have been through this and found themselves in a quandary as what to do.
In a community property states such as Washington, be sure to have both names on all financial accounts and real property. Have a current will, Birth Certificates for both spouses and your Marriage Certificate in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box at your bank. Keep any insurance policies there also.
At time of loss:
1) Call funeral home of your choice. These professionals can be very helpful. You will need 8-12 Death Certificates which they can usually provide.
2) Call or contact the Washington State Department of Retirement Services to advise them. Phone # 1-800-547-6657
3) Call the Department where retired from. Each department has resources to assist you, Such as Color Guard, Bag piper, Bugler, Chaplain etc.
4) If the deceased is receiving Social Security the, S.S. Administration needs to be notified to avoid interruption of payments. The S.S. Administration will need your Marriage Certificate and will have paperwork for you to fill out.
5) Please call and advise W.S.R.D.S.P.O.A. at 1 425 392-4361, President Joe Dawson.
6) Insurance, (life, auto, home, etc.) Contact your agent who will assist you in any claims or changes that need to be made.
7) Medicare, 1-800-633-4227. Each claim is unique and you need to call for instructions.
8) Veterans: Veterans Affairs office should be called regarding any service related benefits, phone # 1-800-827-1000.
9) Contact your bank and any other financial institutions you do business with. You do not want a stop put on any of your accounts. Name changes may be needed.
10) Contact your Attorney for advice and help in making changes in your will and financial matters if needed.
11) Keep notes of who you contact, (name, phone #, when). When mailing information or documents consider using registered mail. The cost is minimal compared to loosing an important document. It will also give you a way to track correspondence.
After receiving the above Death of a Spouse information, a member who lost a spouse sent the following information for you to consider:
“Great stuff. Thank you for sharing. My wife passed away about six months ago, after 47 years of marriage. I can share a few of my experiences, as they apply to this email.
We both had current wills. That made a big difference: no probate. That greatly simplified a lot of things for me. I had our wills on my computer hard drive, with originals in a safe deposit box. Birth and marriage certificates are also in the safe deposit box, but no one ever asked for them. (People like Social Security, VA, and DRS already had all of our birth and marriage information.) I eventually had the attorney who drew up our wills look at mine to see if I needed to change anything.
The funeral director and his wife are long time personal friends. My wife and I had prior conversations with each other and with him about what we wanted done when we died – cremation, VA cemetery, things for our memorial services, etc. That made things much easier for me at a time when dealing with anything and everything involving my wife was emotionally difficult. Most of the big decisions were already made. As a cop, I watched many families struggle with trying to find a funeral home when someone died. People would do better if they make that decision now, before they need it. Meet with your funeral director now, while you are both here, to make those decisions together and without all the emotional baggage. When the time comes, you’ll be glad you did.
(Many couples want to be buried together, both bodies in the same grave or both sets of ashes in the same crypt. We decided to both be cremated. I learned from our funeral director that we could put both urns in the same crypt, or I could choose a larger urn that will be opened when I die, my ashes added to hers, and put back in the crypt. That’s what I chose.)
The funeral director needed a copy of my DD-214 for the VA cemetery.
Most of the other steps required a copy of her death certificate. The funeral director handled that, I just had to wait for the county to issue it. That delay was not a problem when I dealt with people like Social Security, VA, etc. Be sure to ask for multiple copies of the certificate when you talk to your funeral director. Most people wanted certified copies. (Okay, true confession time. I have a good quality printer. I only paid for a few certified copies. Then I scanned in her certified certificate and printed out as many copies as I needed on good heavy paper, including the ‘certification.’ Almost no one ever questioned them. That’s cheaper than paying for multiple copies.) I still have a few copies of the certificate in the safe deposit box for anything else that comes up.
DRS was easy to deal with. They took the information over the phone and had me mail them a copy of her death certificate. I actually got a ‘raise’ in my monthly DRS check. When I retired, I took an actuarial reduction so my wife would keep getting my pension payments if I died first. When she died, that reduction came off. DRS increased my monthly payments to the full amount. The other thing with DRS is to name a new beneficiary for any remaining DRS benefits.
Social Security was easy to deal with, once I got past their phone tree. As with DRS, I mailed them a copy of the death certificate.
I have a VA disability. If you get a monthly disability check from VA, part of the amount is because you have one or more dependents. When you lose a dependent, they adjust the amount. As with Social Security and DRS, I handled this over the phone and mailed them a certificate.
Financial institutions were easy. I had to take her name off of all our joint accounts, credit cards, safe deposit box, etc. (Don’t forget about removing spouse’s name if it is on your pre-printed checks.) The bank caught that the certificate I gave them was a copy, not certified. They were the only ones.
Life insurance was even easier. The funeral director handled that for me.
I called Medicare and our ‘supplemental’ insurer. We handled everything over the phone and I mailed certificates. If you have your ‘supplemental’ insurance premiums automatically deducted from your bank account, this will correct the amount.
Vehicle registration was a problem. We had ‘disabled’ license plates on our car because of my wife’s disability. Tabs renewal came due a couple of months after she died. I went to the local licensing agency with a copy of the death certificate to take her off as a registered owner. They said they can’t do that unless I present a title. I couldn’t do that because I haven’t finished paying Toyota Financial for the car yet. Licensing said I’d have to get a title from Toyota. I called Toyota. The only way I can get a title is to pay off the car. Catch 22. So I mailed my registration check to the county. They sent it back to me with a note that they can’t renew the registration because they have a record that the person for whom the ‘disabled’ plates were issued is deceased. Double Catch 22. So I went back to Licensing and paid for new plates. My wife is still a registered owner of the car. I can’t change that, at least not until the car is paid off.
Don’t forget about changing the title on any real estate you own.
Most of all, be sure that you have good emotional support. Like an old Willie Nelson song says, “When you lose someone you love you don’t get over it, you get through it.”