The grief and shock of death will linger forever. The practical business of getting on with your life needs to be directly taken care of on a daily basis, that too can seem like a never ending set of hoops. Here are several things that you need to know.
- Hopefully things have been set up in both of your names so that you can make changes when needed without going through probate. We had a will but everything was already in my name so there were very few things to change over and I eliminated the unneeded. Here are some shockers that I have learned.
- If your spouse is on social security, SS is notified of the death right away. If there are payments that have been delivered to your checking account or savings, they will be cut off immediately the date of the death, be prepared. If there are overpayments, they will deduct those payments from that account. I talked with people who thought that they had money in accounts and found out otherwise. For me, SS was not an issue since my husband had not yet filed. His income stopped the day of death and the transition to my death benefits began, but I had to file. Fortunately I was a working person and had income. My health insurance was on his dime and that was an issue because of ongoing medications. This proved to be a bit of difficulty as a supervisor in the benefits office picked up my husbands file and began to question why he was not on sick leave or retired out. Simple answer, he never took extra time off and had enough sick time to take him into retirement, which did not come before his death. I was taken aback that she questioned his integrity. She needed my SS number which she said was input into their system wrong, blaming my spouse. You would have to know my husband to understand this part but he was a pharmacist. They are the most exacting people outside of surgeons that I have ever encountered. I know that there are plenty of other professions that have the same personality but pharmacists are never wrong in reporting numbers, especially the one I married. LOL So since there was a mistake, that meant that I had to send her a copy of my original SS card. Delayed action there. After she received it, they did process my new prescription card and when it arrived in the mail, she had our name misspelled, so back we went into the same process. Now my husband worked for the State of IL, and at that week in time heads were rolling. I could have gone over her head, at the recommendation of a good advisor who works with these types in Springfield all the time but I had too many issues to figure out all at once. I let it go but my message here is do not take guff off of a political appointee, private or public sector who has imagined control. You are in the driver’s seat and have earned these benefits, they are due to you, don’t ever give up. As I mentioned during this time heads were rolling daily in Springfield and it took me three days to get someone on the line in a live voice, to report his death. This was a week after the death, the weekend after the funeral. The gentleman that I finally did speak with said that people were not answering their phones in fear of getting their notice. I had some sympathy there and I appreciated his honesty but none of that was my problem. What if I were a young mom with kids to feed and provide services? This man proved to be the most helpful person and fortunately was my on-going contact when I had questions.
- Recommendations? a. Keep a file with, the latest payroll stub, employment numbers to call personnel for help , birth certificates of everyone in the family, a copy of your marriage license and certificate and any divorces from the past, a copy of your last tax filing of federal and state, mortgages, loans, property taxes and insurance certificates and don’t forget those SS card and passports if you have them. That’s a big file but you will need it. It’s been three years and I still have a file with the death/marriage/birth certificates handy as government rules change.
- b. Have a will in place, put all vehicles, real property, bank accounts, stocks, 401K’s, in both your names and keep them that way. Review this once a year to see that your survivors are listed correctly too, once you make the transition to independence. I currently am making myself go through that process.
- c. Keep passwords and change them immediately after the death notice (stalkers use that information to break into accounts). Log onto your bank accounts daily to see changes made by direct deposits from the spousal income. Settlement and insurance payments will come in the mail but government related checks have direct access and they will cut off and take what they calculate as theirs. I have a friend who recently lost a spouse and the bank was in the process of closing their checking account because SS cut checks off right away and the account was going to be delinquent. This person caught it just in time within days of the death.
- d. Make your calls to life insurance within the first week, payout may take as long as a month or more and you must obviously provide death certificates along with both your birth certificates and marriage certificate. I found them to be the easiest ones to work with in the process. They are very tender in their processes.
- e. Get a notebook to track calls and processes. Note business changes and passwords here and anything else that you need to refer to later. Don’t take anything off of anybody – you are in charge, always be polite, take their names down at the beginning of the call, note the date and time of the call and keep a running order of calls. We are just a number in a long line that these agencies deal with each day and you won’t necessarily get the same person all the time. You need a point of reference. Keep your cool, even when they make mistakes. Take note of the mistake though so that the correction process will be smoother.
- f. Social Security – There was a law change in 1980 thanks to President Ronald Reagan that eliminated social security payments to widows who had their own retirement savings through an IRA. Even though my spouse payed into SS all those years, at the maximum level, and had that as part of his retirement, I was not entitled to once red cent. Here is the rule: If your retirement income is 75% or more of what his SS monthly pay would be then you do not get anything. In my case I did not pay into SS as part of my retirement but had long ago during high school and college earned my forty quarters which will pay part of my medicare expenses when I am forced into that action at the age of 65. I was entitled to collect SS on my own earnings at the big rate of $79.00 per month. I could delay that to the age of 70 and get a bit over $100.00 per month. Obviously, I chose to begin payments. The lady did tell me that we had $250.00 coming to us for his burial. I told her to keep it but it showed up in our bank account the next day. Since we had no income from SS at the time of death, this was the last thing that I filed. It’s best to deal with them in person so that you have a clear understanding of the processes, so make an appointment. You will still be alive when finished, promise on that.
- g. So if you are a young couple reading this, I hope that you will take my advice and seriously consider sitting down with a financial planner and look at all your benefits and options at least once a year, set up your files and review, review, review when circumstances change such as the birth of another child or they are launched onto their own. I know that SS benefits for families and survivors are different at younger ages with children entitled to SS payments and it is much needed for those families. It does not take long and it certainly helps to be prepared.