Many tasks will start pressing on you almost immediately, starting with the funeral. Please allow your support team to do most of this work. If you don’t have support, remember the advice to reach out to your social network and let people know what happened to you. It’s my personal belief that we are just not cognitively and physically capable of handling everything alone in the early days. These are some of the things that need to be done, in order of immediacy:
- Plan the funeral. The funeral home you use or the faith community where you have the service should be able to guide you through this process. Most funeral homes, mortuaries, and some churches have funeral planning worksheets that can keep things organized. If your husband was a veteran, he may be eligible for a free funeral through the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs. You can find out more here.
- Review your options for time off if you are employed. Most larger employers will offer one week of bereavement leave, but with the catastrophic stressor of partner suicide you may be eligible for more. Explore whether or not you have access to short term disability. You may be required to see either your personal physician or a counselor to obtain medical clearance for this type of leave, but you should be seeing these professionals anyway. Given the cognitive and physical impact of trauma, it is very unadviseable to go back to work right away unless you are in absolute need of the income. In that case, please consider requesting reasonable accommodation for a shortened work week for a few weeks, or whatever other change at work you may need.
- Request death certificates. The mortuary should assist with this. These days many organizations will accept a scanned electronic copy, or a paper copy, so you may not need more than ten originals. You may find, however, that the documents you get will have “pending” as the cause of death. In most states, suicide results in an autopsy, and cause of death will not be finalized on the death certificate until the autopsy is completed.
Note: Depending on cases waiting at your coroner’s office, this can take time and you probably will not be able to file for any life insurance until the cause of death is formally noted on the death certificate. If your wait for a cause of death is too long, contact the coroner’s office and advocate for your needs.
- Contact your husband’s employer. It is likely that only you can do this. You should notify them of his death and talk to the human resources representative as you will want to know if he has benefits that will transfer to you, i.e. life insurance and/or a 401K. If your husband provided your health insurance, you also need to discuss that with them.
- If you are losing health insurance, you can transfer to your own employer’s plan outside of open enrollment because you have had a “qualifying life event.” If your job doesn’t provide health insurance, contact the Healthcare Marketplace to understand your options. Do not let this slide. It’s very important for you (and any children) to maintain your insurance.
- Notify the Social Security Administration. Here is information from Social Security about this process and the steps to apply for the Social Security death benefit.
- Contact your bank(s) and all of his credit card companies to prevent fraud on his accounts.
- Cancel his mobile phone plan.
- Later on in the first year, you should tackle things as they arise, but focus on consolidating your finances and understanding your financial situation. You may need to:
- File for life insurance
- Sell a home
- Transfer 401Ks
- Transfer investments
- Change the title of vehicles or other property
- Sell vehicles or other property
- Close or transfer bank accounts
- Close his gym membership or other routine obligations
- Notify his doctor’s office
A great book to guide you through the practical aspects of this first year is When Someone Dies: The Practical Guide to the Logistics of Death by attorney Scott Taylor Smith. Be sure to also hire the professional help you may need as the work can be complex. You may benefit from talking to a certified public accountant, an attorney, and/or a financial advisor. If you cannot afford this type of help, talk to people you know to find individuals in your support network who can help. You or your husband's employer may also have resources you can tap into, or see if there is a social service agency focused on the needs of women in transition in your community.