Coping financially after someone dies

Coping financially after someone dies

Coping with financial worries on top of grieving a loved one’s death is difficult. Understanding how to handle money matters after a partner has died, getting together the cash for a funeral, and learning to depend on yourself financially again are all large scale changes.

Studies have shown that the money woes that accompany bereavement can intensify and prolong grief, or lead to depression and worse mental health. Here we look at how financial worries after a partner’s death can impact bereavement, and some of the solutions.

Most married couples are older people

At the moment, the majority of us in the UK are reaching older age, and among this age group are the highest number of couples. In the near future, the number of those aged 65 and over living as a couple is set to rise from 5 million to 8 million. With more ageing couples comes an increasinging likelihood of financial woe after a partner dies. (ONS, 2005)

What’s the problem?

For those who’ve lived together for 25 years or more, it’s common to share not just memories and the odd argument, but bank accounts, mortgages and bills.

It’s common for one person to take the reigns in the finance department. Especially with those of us aged 50 and over, we’ve become comfortable with letting our other half deal with things if they’re the one most likely to make to-do lists, or relish the chance to be kept on hold when dealing with taxes. If this partner dies, along with their death comes anxiety over how to cope financially.

Links between financial and emotional experiences

When grieving a partner’s death, it’s been shown that financial worries can increase and prolong bereavement. According to a study by University of York, the quick escalation of financial hardship after a partner’s death, or the stress of realising you have to now manage finances alone, can impact on the grieving process.

It can lead to those who have had a partner die less likely to reach out for support, as the compound worry leads people to a vicious cycle of silence, an increased likelihood of depression and even problem debt.

Who’s affected by this the most?

While all couples are different, with many people understanding how their household is run and taking control of budgeting, there’s some traditional roles in the mix with older couples that can impact on someone’s ability to cope with finances.

It may be that women who didn’t have a large role in sorting out utilities, creating bank accounts or even managing their own, will be affected in a more complicated way by a partner’s death.  

York’s study shows that women who depended on their partner for tasks such as home repairs and financial management had significantly higher levels of anxiety.

Households are changing

An increasing number of couples are regarded as people who live together, rather than married or registered partners. As households change, the law isn’t keeping up with a growing reality. If you weren’t married when your partner dies, however long you’ve been together, then your partnership isn’t legally recognised. This means a person who’s partner dies won’t be entitled to inheritance money, that person’s state pension or other benefits.


Preparing financially by talking things over with a partner before their death, according to the study, appears to offer better protection for well-being following bereavement, reducing the stresses caused by financial problems. Here’s what we can suggest to get prepared:

    • Plan ahead. Make sure everyone in the household is aware of the bills, outgoing payments and incoming money. This includes any passwords and security answers. It’s not enough to rely on one of you to do it; an awareness of the day to day running of your household can help to soften the blow if one of you dies.
    • Talk about your worries and get the support you need. This might not just be psychological help. It can include getting the right information you need clearly explained to you, learning the basics of finance management, and being shown simple financial solutions.
  • Looking wholesale at our ideas around the notion of ‘breadwinner’, and how planning for death, or simply raising the subject, can help empower some people.

Find out more

At we’ve got lots more articles on death’s financial matters.

Take a look at our article on whether or not buying a funeral plan is the best choice

Read about the overall costs and hidden fees involved in arranging a funeral

Ever though about life insurance? We look at the benefits and drawbacks of over 50s life insurance here

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