My spouse died, what do I do?


No matter how long ago a spouse passed or how long you were married, there is a void that is left. No one claim they understand what it feels like, even if they have lost a spouse of their own, as each relationship is dynamic and was its own entity.

However, in light of this event, there are some financial things that need to be addressed.


Understand what benefits you are entitled to

State pension plans, in which teachers are a part of, have rules for surviving spouses. Sadly, these vary depending on the state that your spouse taught in, so you’ll have to get the exact details from the pension plan themselves. In Illinois, surviving spouses are eligible for 50% of their spouses pension. If they were working and not collecting a pension yet, then the surviving spouse has to wait until they are 50 or older until they can collect monthly benefits. They can receive lump sum benefits at their spouses passing based on their spouses tenure, service credit and contributions, but lifetime monthly benefits do have a minimum age cap.

If your spouse was collecting their pension, then the month following their death, the survivor’s benefit will kick in. In Illinois, this is 50% of the original pension payable until the surviving spouse passes away.


Revisit your estate plan

After this event, it is appropriate to visit with an Estate Planning attorney, and have your whole situation reviewed. It may be appropriate to have your estate planning documents updated, if they listed your deceased spouse as having authority should you pass away or become incapacitated. You should also have the title of your house, accounts and other effects reviewed to make sure they are appropriate.

If your spouse had an IRA or other retirement accounts, don’t do anything just yet. There are some detailed rules with retirement accounts and surviving spouses and making the wrong move could cost you some money. In addition to meeting with an attorney, sit down with a financial planner and have them review your situation to ensure you can have the simplest set-up in a way that doesn’t cost you unnecessary dollars to get there.


Revise your financial plan with adjusted assets, income and expenses

Regardless of your age at this phase of life, it pays to adjust your whole financial plan to reflect your new future. Take note of what assets your currently have and how they may have changed. Little should have changed as a result of your spouse dying – other than their pension income – but it doesn’t hurt to review everything to be sure. Also seek to understand how your expenses will go down as well as how your income may be affected. By getting a clear picture of your current reality it will stop nay surprises coming up – like spending like your income didn’t change, or saving too much now there is only one person in your family needing income for retirement.


Ensure you still have quality of life

While this phase of your life has ended, another has begun. Start to seek out those who comfort you, bring you joy and encourage you to live a fulfilled life. It’s hard when a spouse passes as it may affect your social circle, but this needs to be embraced as well. Change is hard when viewed as a challenge, but if viewed as another phase of life, it can bring some of life’s most fulfilling moments. Take your time and make sure you embrace this new life as you feel comfortable