When a spouse dies … 8 steps you need to take

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By Sarah Halfpenny

The impact of losing your partner goes far beyond the initial grief. Although your new reality may feel too overwhelming to face, it’s important to be able to function despite the emotional pain, to ensure a better future for yourself and your family.

So, beyond grieving, what steps do you need to take when your partner in life dies? Here are some practical tips to help you navigate one of life’s most traumatic experiences and minimise stress:

  1. Act on their wishes

If your spouse wanted to be an organ donor (and consent is always needed), you’ll need to act quickly to ensure the process can be carried out correctly. You can get more information on the Donate Life website.

  1. Plan the funeral

This is another task that takes priority, but luckily most funeral directors offer a 24-hour service. The cost of a funeral in Australia starts at around $5,000 with many variable factors such as where the service and the burial/cremation will be held.

Though it may feel a bit morbid, making pre-arranged and even pre-paid funeral plans can be one of the most empathetic decisions a person can make. It takes a huge weight off loved one’s shoulders at a very difficult time. Check if your private health or life insurance company or another organisation such as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs or Department of Human Services will pay for funeral costs or grant you a bereavement payment.

  1. Register the death

The funeral director will normally do this (with the relevant state’s Births, Deaths and Marriages registry), then a death certificate can be issued which allows you to deal with your partner’s estate and claim any relevant insurance money or money from their bank if it’s not a joint account.

  1. Notify banks and other providers

With a death certificate issued, you can start contacting the various banks, utilities companies, telecommunications providers, government departments (like the Australian Taxation Office), employers and clubs etc. that your spouse had dealings with.

There’s a comprehensive list to help you here:

  1. Close down social media accounts

In this day and age, it’s likely your spouse has scores of photos, videos, personal anecdotes and messages on at least one social media platform, if not more. Each network will have a different procedure, so search their FAQs and find out whether you need to simply deactivate the account or if you can “memorialise” the account.

  1. Gather a team of professionals to help you

It’s devastating enough to be facing a future without your partner, but having to work your way through mountains of paperwork and legalities can make it feel unbearable. You may need the services of a lawyer, an accountant and a financial advisor, so if you don’t already have them, as for recommendations from family and friends.

  1. Review your assets and entitlements

You need to prepare for your financial future, so if you own a home jointly, check with a lawyer about the status of your home and whether you need to transfer it into your sole name. You may also be eligible for government assistance or insurance payouts which can make a huge difference to your quality of life going forward.

  1. Get support for yourself

When the busy stage immediately following the death and the funeral has passed, you may find yourself lost in grief and loneliness. Consider contacting a counsellor either through your GP or community health centre, and try to maintain contact with friends, family and any other interests you had when your spouse was alive.

Establishing a new routine around exercise can help both mentally and physically, and there are services available both privately and through local councils to help you with your home and garden.

If you need to talk to someone about your mental health, there are plenty of services available such as Lifeline or Solace Australia.

The death of a spouse is one of the most distressing events a person can face, and there is no ‘right’ way to carry on with your life, so do what is best for you. Some days will be easier than others but the support of family and friends, and the cherished memories of your partner will help get you through what is, after all, a natural part of life.

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