Losing your spouse can be hard enough. You will need time to grieve. And through this grief, somehow, make important decisions. You may need to attend to some urgent things right away, like arranging the funeral and paying some bills. Others, like settling the estate will take more time. Many spouses act as  executor of the will. You don’t have to be executor if you don’t want to be. The task can be daunting. If you are not executor of the will, not all of these tasks will fall to you.

This is a time for close family members or friends and trusted advisors to step up and chip in. Ultimately, you as the widow or widower must direct these people and make final decisions.

Here’s a checklist of 10 things you need to do when your spouse dies:

  1. Get legal, tax and financial advice
  2. Make funeral arrangements
  3. Apply for government benefits
  4. Contact your spouse’s past and recent employers 
  5. File life insurance claims
  6. Call your bank or other financial institutions
  7. Close accounts and cancel subscriptions in your spouse's name
  8. Update your will and power of attorney
  9. Review your real estate
  10. Take steps to avoid becoming a target of fraud

1. Get legal, tax and financial advice

Settling an estate can require professional help. You may need a lawyer, an accountant and a financial advisor. Those you know and already enjoy working with are the logical choice. Otherwise, ask family and friends for personal recommendations. These associations can help you build your team: 

Accept help from friends and family.

Close friends and loved ones are also important members of your team. Chances are, they’re happy to help. Settling an estate takes time. Making so many important decisions on your own can be exhausting. Especially since you may have trouble thinking clearly at this time. Delegate as many details as you can. And consider bringing a trusted friend with you to important meetings. They can take notes and may remember information you could forget.

2. Make funeral arrangements

Did your spouse purchase a cemetery plot or make other pre-arrangements? If not, you will need to select a funeral home. If you are unsure of which one to choose, consider asking a loved one to compare options. Prices and services can vary widely from one city and one funeral home to the next. Doing some research can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Read about different funeral options and their approximate costs at Canadian Funerals Online.

Once you have chosen, you will meet with the funeral director. Take the time to voice what you hope the ceremony and other engagements will look like. You may want to include mementos, photos and other keepsakes. There are no right or wrong ways to celebrate your spouse’s life. Do what feels right for you. 

The funeral director will provide a death certificate. Be sure to obtain multiple copies. These will be useful as you wait for the official death certificate delivered by your province

3. Apply for government benefits

The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) or Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) pays a lump-sum death benefit of $2,500. You may be eligible for survivor benefits and children’s benefits as well. 

Are you aged 60-64 and your spouse or common-law partner received Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS)? You may qualify for the Widowed Spouse’s Allowance. If your spouse was a veteran, other benefits or allowances may be payable. 

Be sure to officially notify CPP/QPP and Old Age Security of your spouse’s death. This will avoid having to repay any overpayments later.

4. Contact your spouse’s past and recent employers

Was your spouse employed when they passed? If so, you may be eligible for group life or accident insurance benefits. These may depend on the cause of death. In addition, there may be retiree life insurance in force. Your spouse may also hold a company pension or other savings plan. This can be paid out by lump sum or monthly payment. Contact any previous employers your spouse could have contributed pension funds to.

5. File life insurance claims

Did your spouse have a life insurance policy? If you are the beneficiary, contact the life insurance companies to make a claim. A death certificate and other documentation may be needed to validate your claim. 

The amount of money paid to you, the beneficiary, when your spouse (the insured person) dies is known as the death benefit. This money is tax-exempt and separate from the rest of the estate. You may receive the amount within 30 days after submitting the requested documentation.

6. Call your bank or other financial institutions

You can still access joint bank accounts. Any account in your spouse’s name alone typically will be frozen. It will be accessible to the executor when the will is probated. (Please note: In Quebec, notarized wills do not need to go through probate). 

You may be able to access money in your spouse’s account if you need it urgently. The bank will likely advance funds to pay for the funeral if the executor presents a bill.

7. Close accounts and cancel subscriptions in your spouse's name

Cancelling government ID and other accounts can help prevent fraud. Start by cancelling the IDs in your possession, which can include:

  • provincial health insurance coverage,
  • driver’s licence,
  • passport, and
  • social insurance number.

Then, close all credit card accounts. Remember to take your spouse’s name off joint cards and accounts.  

Go through bank statements to make a list of any service providers your spouse may have subscriptions to. This may include:

  • service providers (cell phone, gym membership, cable packages you no longer want access to),
  • app subscriptions (music or video streaming, cloud storage), and
  • online digital accounts, including social media.

8. Update your will and power of attorney

Review your will and power of attorney. Your current will may name your spouse as beneficiary. Have your lawyer prepare new documents for your signature.

9. Review your real estate

You will become sole owner of any property you own jointly with your spouse. The value of the property will not form part of the estate for probate purposes. Ask your lawyer whether you need to transfer it into your name as sole owner. 

If you want or need to downsize, don’t rush. Try to delay major decisions like this during your initial mourning period. “You don’t want to decide to make a big change when you are grieving and perhaps not thinking clearly,” according to the National Institute on Aging.

10. Take steps to avoid becoming a target of fraud

Sadly, losing your spouse may make you a more likely target for fraud artists. Don’t sign over any money or accept a financial proposal from strangers. Ask for time to think over any financial proposals. 

Discuss any major financial projects with your advisor. They can see how any transaction can fit into your bigger financial plan. Especially now that you may need a new plan. 

Need an advisor? A Sun Life advisor can help plan to meet your goals and needs. Most advisors offer to meet Clients virtually by video chat. Talk to an advisor today.

When you are ready to meet a new romantic partner, take your time. Consider having your lawyer draw up a pre-nuptial agreement before remarrying. This contract will protect you and your heirs.

This article is meant to only provide general information. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada does not provide legal, accounting, taxation, or other professional advice. Please seek advice from a qualified professional, including a thorough examination of your specific legal, accounting and tax situation.