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Before one of you dies:

  • Complete your Will, Heathcare Power of Attorney, Financial Power of Attorney

  • Power of Attorney for Healthcare (HCPOA) documents to your POAs and to all doctors.
    Note: Waiting until your spouse is sick could be too late for your spouse to sign it.
    2nd Note: Have copies handy to take them with you for any serious medical interventions. The hospital might misplace them.

  • Financial Power of Attorney (FPOA) to your POAs and to credit card companies.
    Note: Then you can manage your spouse’s account if your spouse is sick or has recently died.

  • Complete a Living Will and/or  Advanced Directives. Consider completing Practitioner Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST)  Home - POLST (,. 
    Note: POLST are doctor’s orders and must be followed. Living Will and Advanced Directives are legal documents and may or may not be followed.

  • Have each others’ passwords to all: bank accounts; credit cards; retirement accounts; computers; phone; digital equipment.
    Note: Use a password app (i.e., LastPass) that both of you can use, and remember to update it when you change a password.

  • Have all account numbers

  • Find out about credit cards:
    Note: Find out if you are “co-owner” or “secondary”? If you are “secondary,” you cannot manage the credit card when your spouse dies. Co-owners can. Another reason for credit card companies to have your POA.

  • Revisit wills regularly and update them, if necessary.  
    Note: Should you, at a younger age, have wanted your body to go to research, reconsider If you are older or sick. They won’t want it!  Also, beneficiaries can change.

  • Know spouse’s burial and funeral wishes so you are not surprised. Review these regularly.

  • Complete The Five Wishes (available online)

  • Know what all accounts are for. 

  • Know how all bills are paid (direct withdrawal from bank; credit card payments by hand or automatic)

  • Know all email accounts, if more than one

  • Insurance policies – home, car: 
    Note: Check if both names are owner of car and insurance policies.  You will have trouble selling the car if the car is in the deceased’s name only. 

  • In whose name are: Deeds to house; Car; Utilities?

  • Costco card:
    Note: The Costco card is only in one name; if in your spouse’s name, you won’t be able to use it or get any credits from it.

  • How to work things your spouse does for you!


After spouse dies:
You will likely need to provide the death certificate and marriage license as proof of the death and of your relationship.

  • Don’t remove spouse’s name from checking account for one year. 
    Note: A check could come in spouse’s name and you won’t be able to cash it.

  • Try sending copies of death certificate, when requested, before sending original.

  • Owner may need to be changed on car, home ownership/deed.

  • Put electric bills, gas, etc. in your name.

  • 529 College Saving Plans – only one person can be on it.  To change it, send driver’s license and death certificate.

  • Change name on your spouse’s retirement accounts (assuming you are beneficiary).

  • Change beneficiaries

  • Change will

  • If spouse was your POA, change POAs and get them to doctors

  • Airline miles – try to transfer to you

  • Credit card rewards

  • Social Security – the death benefit is usually paid to you automatically.

  • Regular SS benefit if in spouse’s name

  • You will have to give SS information on the retirement benefits you receive from your work and from your spouse’s work.  They send a form.

  • Cancel spouse’s long-term care insurance.

  • Make needed changes for telephone, cell phone, landline, outgoing message

  • In whose name is: Internet, TV, Newspaper, Magazines, AARP, AAA, Donor Advised Fund.

  • Cancel voter registration for spouse if you can.

General things your family should know for 1st spouse and 2nd:

  • Who MUST be advised of the death?

  • What automatic bank and/or credit card deductions need to be stopped?

  • What accounts need to be closed?  Or let lapse.

  • Some like to name to whom your personal possessions will go.  (Unless the will is a “pourover” will into an estate.)

  • Contact info for:

    • Financial advisor (if applicable)

    • Doctors (for health care proxy)

    • Passwords for online accounts

  • Where documents are located (in file or elsewhere)

Arbor West Neighbors

Arbor West Neighbors (AWN) is a grassroots organization of neighbors in Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park and Austin connected to support and enrich aging through community building and advocacy. Our mission is to empower adults to thrive as we age in community. 


Our vision is to build a multi-ethnic, multicultural community where all older adults are valued, age with dignity, and enjoy opportunities for growth and engagement. 

We are an all-volunteer 501(c)3 organization with over 120 members. 

About Us

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