Sen. Vincent J. Fumo

District Office

1208 Tasker Street
Phila, PA 19148

Harrisburg Office

545 Main Capitol
Hbg, PA 17120



A Guide for Older Pennsylvanians in Their Time of Bereavement

     Each 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 them.

     If they are fortunate, the process can be made a bit more bearable by the presence of a supportive network of family, friends and professionals.

     Those 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.

     Although 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.

     It is important to have a prepared list of phone numbers, account numbers, etc. so they will be readily accessible to the surviving spouse.

     The following are some of the most important ones:


    • Location

    • Name and address of attorney

    • Name and address of executor or executors

    • Name, address, and phone numbers of witnesses

    • Safe deposit box number, location, and key


  • BANKS:
    The name, branch and phone number in which your accounts are located, as well as the account numbers.


    • Checking

    • Savings

    • CD's

    • IRA's

    • Loans

    • Mortgages

    • Trusts



    • Phone numbers for the local Federal, State, and County Veteran's Offices

    • Installation numbers and dates

    • Severance numbers



    • Social Security information phone number

    • Social Security number

    • Employment Record



    • Department Stores

    • Bank Credit Cards

    • Gasoline Charge Cards



    • Company name

    • Agent's name, address, and phone number

    • Policy numbers



    • Name

    • Contact person's name and phone number



    • Financial Consultant's name and phone number

    • Stocks

    • Bonds



    • Power of Attorney

    • Income Tax Returns

    • Birth Certificate

    • Marriage Certificate

    • Divorce Papers (if applicable)

    • Passport

    • Property Ownership Papers

    • Car Title

    • Burial Plot/Funeral Arrangements

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  1. Locate the will. Most are kept either at home, in a safe deposit box, or with a lawyer.


  2. 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.


  3. Be sure to obtain several copies (at least 10) of the death certificate.


  4. Locate Life Insurance policies and file claims, and remember to include the death certificate with all claims.


  5. Claim benefits from employer/former employer. These benefits would include pension, profit sharing, group life insurance, or health insurance.


  6. 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.


  7. 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.


  8. Retitle stocks and bonds in your own name.


  9. Locate IRAs and notify the custodian of your spouse's demise so that any further distributions will be made in the proper name.


  10. 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 Office, 717-861-8502

  • County Department of Veterans Services, 215-686-3256 215-686-3257

Several of the state benefits that are available are:

VETERANS EMERGENCY 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 financial need.

EDUCATIONAL 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.

     If 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.

     Important documents you should have available when applying for assistance or benefits are:

  • Honorable Discharge from the Armed Forces or DD Form 214, Report of Separation from Service

  • Marriage License

  • Death Certificate

  • Veteran's Social Security number and claim number with the Veterans Administration

  • Divorce papers (if applicable)

  • Adoption Papers (if applicable)

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     To 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.

     Generally, 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);

  • Marriage certificate;

  • Your spouse's death certificate;

  • 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.

     You 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 qualify.

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  • It may be a good idea to leave a bank account open for a least a year to cover any outstanding expenses.

  • 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 Office)

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     Learning 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.

     The Blue Pages of the telephone book provide information and phone numbers for other support groups.

Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo