Dealing with the Loss of a Spouse

The death of a spouse can be one of life’s most devastating events. Complicating matters, during a time when a surviving spouse may feel as though they are unable to deal with life’s routines, many new tasks will need to be taken care of. Seeking the support of others may be important, whether it be family members, trusted friends or even professionals.  

Here are some financial steps that may need to be undertaken while navigating this difficult time. Many of these activities may be supported by the estate executor or administrator:  

Take Care of Items Requiring Immediate Attention

  • Make funeral arrangements or carry out pre-made arrangements; request multiple copies of the death certificate from the funeral home as these will be needed for various financial tasks.
  • Identify the estate executor and provide a copy of the will. Determine whether the support of a lawyer will be required.
  • Notify any (past) employers and request information on potential employee benefits (insurance, pension, vacation/sick pay owed).
  • Report the death to the Canada Revenue Agency to request benefits (death benefit/survivor pension), or to stop benefit payments as these will otherwise need to be repaid.
  • Determine if expenses are due by the deceased and arrange payment to avoid late charges.

Organize Legal/Financial Documents 

If this has not been done, compile all financial and legal information. A comprehensive view of the deceased spouse’s finances can help ease the settlement of the estate. Financial accounts include bank/investments, credit cards, mortgages/other debt accounts and insurance policies (life, automobile, home, health). Legal documents include estate documents (wills and trusts), tax returns, birth/marriage certificates or divorce agreements. Digital assets should also be considered, including websites and online accounts that may have monetary value.    

Make Claims, Collect Benefits, Close/Update Accounts

Once documentation has been completed, financial and legal institutions should be notified of the death to make claims, change ownership or close accounts. Other institutions should also be notified to close accounts and prevent fraud, such as provincial agencies (health insurance, driver’s license), credit agencies, memberships and web-based accounts. 

File Final Tax Returns

Generally, the deceased’s final tax return is due by April 30th of the following year if the death occurred before October 31st. After October 31st, the return is due six months after the date of death. Any taxes owing on the deceased’s final tax return must be paid by the due date. The surviving spouse’s tax return is due on the same date, but any balance owing by the survivor must be paid on or before April 30th of the year following the death to avoid interest charges. 

Revise your Financial Plan

If possible, try and avoid making any large financial decisions soon after a spouse’s death. Once there has been time to process the loss, more thoughtful decisions can be made. A spouse’s death can impact your financial planning, such as changing current income and cash flow needs, or future goals. Estate planning documents will also need updating.  

As always, remember that we are here to be a resource. During this very difficult time, we hope that we can be called on to provide support.