Financial Resources for Widows and Widowers

ByNathan Paulus
Reviewed byRachael Burns, CFP®

Updated: March 15, 2024

ByNathan Paulus
Reviewed byRachael Burns, CFP®

Updated: March 15, 2024

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Losing a spouse can bring about significant financial changes. You may suddenly face the loss of your spouse’s income or shoulder the responsibility for their debts. Resources and supportive communities are available to help you improve your overall wellbeing and financial stability. MoneyGeek offers expert-verified steps and advice for post-bereavement personal finance situations.

Financial Challenges of Widowhood

Recently widowed partners, on average, experience an 11% decline in income. Many widows face additional financial hurdles beyond the immediate financial implications of a spouse's passing. These include managing and settling debts — whether shared or in the deceased's name — and Social Security, because the death of a spouse can alter these benefits. Such a loss can also affect the tax filing process, bringing forth new tax considerations.

Spousal Debt Responsibilities

A surviving spouse may inherit the deceased partner's debts in addition to their assets. The specifics vary widely by jurisdiction and financial arrangements. In community property states, for example, both spouses typically share liability for debts incurred during the marriage. Beyond the community property rule, several other factors or situations can determine your responsibility for the debt.

Credit Card Debt

When determining responsibility for credit card debt after a spouse's death, several factors — such as account setup and location — come into play.


Mortgage Debt

When a spouse dies, handling the mortgage depends on the agreement, the deceased's assets and your finances. You’ll want to contact your mortgage lender to determine if you must refinance the mortgage into your own name to continue payments.


Medical Debt

The responsibility of medical debt after a spouse's death often depends on where you reside and the specific circumstances surrounding the debt.


Post-Bereavement Social Security Benefits

A spouse’s passing affects their Social Security benefits. If you still receive your late spouse's Social Security checks, avoid cashing them — the government will reclaim this money. Here's guidance on managing these benefits:


Tax Implications Following Bereavement

A change in marital status due to a spouse's death can affect tax rates, deductions and available tax breaks. The IRS has provisions to help ease the tax strain for the bereaved. Here are key tax points and strategies for widows and widowers:


Financial Steps to Take in Early Widowhood

Remember that you’re establishing a new long-term financial strategy that will take time. Some tasks will be more urgent than others. Key steps involve organizing assets, refraining from hasty investments or major financial decisions and learning enough about personal finance to boost your confidence and decision-making.


Set Up Bill Payment

Address immediate financial needs, such as funeral costs, and stay on top of paying bills. Take inventory of what bills are set up for autopay and from which account, and make sure these accounts aren’t frozen when the bank is notified of the death. Identify which accounts need to be paid via one-time payment each month.


Steer Clear of Big Investments

Avoid making major financial decisions for six months after a loss. This gives adequate time for the estate to settle, and you can get a clearer picture of your financial situation. For instance, refrain from buying or selling a house, making significant changes to your investment strategy and lending or gifting large sums of money during this period. Seek professional advice when in doubt.


Compile an Asset Inventory

Compile an inventory of your assets, including bank accounts, investments and real estate. Check past tax returns to uncover additional assets and income. Review retirement accounts, like IRAs or pension plans, annuities and life insurance policies, because you may be entitled to benefits or proceeds. Likewise, run a credit report to see a list of every debt your name is on. These actions provide a clear bird’s-eye view of your financial standing.


Get Clear on Your Expenses

List and prioritize expenses, with essentials like housing at the forefront. Use budgeting tools or apps to help you create a budget, and always review any auto-debits from bank accounts or credit cards tied to these services. You can consider creditor hardship programs for benefits like deferred payments as a last resort.


Rebuild Your Financial Safety Net

If you didn't have an emergency fund before or if it was depleted, now is the time to start rebuilding it. The amount should be able to cover your essential living expenses for about three to five months — keep this fund liquid. A high-yield savings account would be a great place to park your emergency fund. Avoid linking it to your checking account's overdraft protection to prevent unintentional withdrawals.


Federal and State Assistance Programs

Although there aren't exclusive government grants for those mourning a spouse, several programs address the needs of widows and widowers.


Benefits for Military Families

There are dedicated financial resources to assist spouses who have lost a military service member. If a service member dies in the line of duty, the surviving spouse is entitled to a tax-free death gratuity of $100,000, symbolizing the country's appreciation for their sacrifice.


Charitable Foundations and Community Support

Many charitable organizations and community groups financially and emotionally support widows and widowers. These organizations, ranging from local religious institutions to expansive national foundations, deliver various types of assistance.


Additional Resources

MoneyGeek compiled financial management resources to help widows and widowers gain financial stability and plan for the future.

About Nathan Paulus

Nathan Paulus headshot

Nathan Paulus is the Head of Content Marketing at MoneyGeek, with nearly 10 years of experience researching and creating content related to personal finance and financial literacy.

Paulus has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. He enjoys helping people from all walks of life build stronger financial foundations.