A Guide for Older Pennsylvanians
in Their Time of Bereavement
year more than 1,200,000 persons are widowed in the United States and
Canada. Upon the death of a spouse, a widow or widower must face a host
of tasks and decisions at a time when they feel least like assuming
they are fortunate, the process can be made a bit more bearable by the
presence of a supportive network of family, friends and professionals.
who have not yet faced this awesome trial in life at least can have
preparedness on their side. Husbands and wives should always know
details of each other's finances, insurance, funeral wishes, the
location of important papers, and so forth. The better the organization
and communication during the lifetime, the easier it will be for the
survivor, regardless of who dies first.
it is among the most undesirable tasks in life, getting one's affairs
organized to be used after your death will greatly relieve the burden
faced by your family. It is only smart planning to make sure you have a
legal will. Another good idea is making burial plans with the funeral
director and paying for your funeral ahead of time, thus relieving your
family of one ordeal.
is important to have a prepared list of phone numbers, account numbers,
etc. so they will be readily accessible to the surviving spouse.
following are some of the most important ones:
Name and address of
Name and address of
executor or executors
Name, address, and
phone numbers of witnesses
Safe deposit box
number, location, and key
The name, branch and phone number in which your accounts are
located, as well as the account numbers.
Phone numbers for
the local Federal, State, and County Veteran's Offices
CHARGE ACCOUNT NUMBERS:
Bank Credit Cards
CLUBS AND ORGANIZATIONS
TO WHICH YOU BELONG:
OTHER IMPORTANT PAPERS:
Power of Attorney
Income Tax Returns
Divorce Papers (if
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AFTER THE LOSS OF A SPOUSE
Locate the will. Most
are kept either at home, in a safe deposit box, or with a lawyer.
If you are named
executor of the will, you may feel the need to contact an attorney
for further assistance. However, if it is a simple will, small
estate and/or no possibility of it being contested, you may want to
probate the will yourself. If so, contact the County Register of
Wills, 215-686-6250, for assistance.
Be sure to obtain
several copies (at least 10) of the death certificate.
Locate Life Insurance
policies and file claims, and remember to include the death
certificate with all claims.
Claim benefits from
employer/former employer. These benefits would include pension,
profit sharing, group life insurance, or health insurance.
If there is any property
in your spouse's name alone, it will need to be transferred. If the
property is in both of your names, then nothing needs to be done. In
the event you decide to sell, you will need to present your spouse's
death certificate when changing the deed.
If the title of the car
is in your spouse's name alone, or in both of your names, it will
need to be retitled in the survivor's name. This does not need to be
done immediately. You are given the grace period of the remainder of
the current registration period plus one additional period before
you must retitle the car. AAA or any motor club can help you with
this as well as most Notaries Public.
Retitle stocks and bonds
in your own name.
Locate IRAs and notify
the custodian of your spouse's demise so that any further
distributions will be made in the proper name.
Contact any unions,
fraternal organizations, or clubs that your spouse belonged to and
notify them of their death. Also, check to see if there are any
benefits that you are entitled to with their organization.
If your spouse was a
veteran, there are benefits such as widow's or children's
compensation, pensions and death benefits available for surviving
family members. Some of these benefits are obtainable upon request.
Others have restrictions such as income, age, and service dates,
etc. Rules and regulations for benefits are constantly changing so
it is best to contact your local Federal, State, and County
Veterans' offices for current information. Claims must be made
within one year of the death of your spouse.
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Federal Department of
Veterans Affairs, 215-423-5225
State Adjutant General's
County Department of
Veterans Services, 215-686-3256 · 215-686-3257
Several of the state
benefits that are available are:
ASSISTANCE - Provides aid for food, clothing, and shelter on a temporary
basis (not to exceed three months). Based on household income. The
veteran must have been honorably discharged and a wartime veteran. The
family must not be receiving Public Assistance (Welfare).
WIDOW OR WIDOWER'S REAL
PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION - Widows or widowers of honorably discharged,
wartime veterans who died of a service-connected disability and if the
veteran would have been eligible for exemption, may also be eligible for
Real Property Tax Exemption on their principal residence. Based on
GRATUITY-Children of honorably discharged, wartime veterans who were
totally disabled from service-connected disabilities or have died of a
service-connected disability, may receive an educational gratuity while
attending any state or state-aided college or other secondary
institution. Financial need must be shown and the student must be
between the ages of 16 and 23.
the veteran was a member of the American Legion, Disabled American
Veterans, Purple Heart, or Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Post Commander
may be contacted for the ritual service (firing squad, if the Post has
such an organization) and the casket bearers, if needed. If it is the
desire of the family to have the United States flag presented to the
next of kin during the services, the Post Commander should be contacted.
documents you should have available when applying for assistance or
Honorable Discharge from
the Armed Forces or DD Form 214, Report of Separation from Service
Security number and claim number with the Veterans Administration
Divorce papers (if
Adoption Papers (if
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SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS
apply for Social Security survivor's benefits, contact your local Social
Security office as soon as you are eligible. Since the Social Security
Act is constantly being revised and amended, you should contact them to
determine current benefits. It is a good idea to phone ahead to find out
what things you will need to bring with you when applying for benefits.
If these documents are not readily available, file your claim without
them and bring the missing documents later. In some cases you can lose
benefits if you delay, since eligibility begins at the date of filing
rather than the date of your spouse's death.
you will be asked to bring the following:
Social Security cards or
records of you and your spouse's Social Security numbers;
Proof of age (your birth
or baptismal certificate);
Your spouse's death
Your spouse's W-2 income
tax withholding form from the past year (if applicable) or a copy of
your last Federal income tax return and proof of payment; and
Birth certificates and
Social Security numbers (if applicable) of your children, if you are
applying for them.
may be entitled to a lump sum for the funeral expenses, survivor
benefits, and possibly Medicare benefits to help cover some of the final
medical bills. It is worth your time to check into this to see if you
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OTHER HELPFUL INFORMATION
It may be a good idea to
leave a bank account open for a least a year to cover any
Car insurance rates may
have to be adjusted if there is a difference in driving exposure.
Homeowner's and other insurance rates also may need to be adjusted.
Contact your insurance representative to see what can be done.
Funeral directors are
very helpful in this type of situation. They should be able to
answer any questions you may have.
If you have any
inheritance tax questions, call 215-686-6273 (Inheritance Tax
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WIDOWED PERSON'S COUNSELING
how to cope with the loss of a spouse is important for the physical and
emotional well being of the surviving spouse. Communications and
increased social supports can help in completing the natural grieving
process which occurs following the death of a spouse.
Blue Pages of the telephone book provide information and phone
numbers for other support groups.