Few things in this world are as devastating as losing a spouse. If you have suffered the loss of your life partner, my heart goes out to you. I understand the emotional impact can be debilitating, and the last thing you need to think about is the “to do” list. Tackling that list often makes people feel as though they are leaving their partner behind. What’s important to realize is that your spouse will indefinitely be in your thoughts and heart.
Even if you haven’t lost a spouse or life partner, this article can help you prepare for that day and will give you some ideas to consider.
When You’re Ready . . . Some things need your attention
It’s okay (in fact, it’s advisable) to wait a while after the passing of your spouse to make any important decisions, especially financial decisions. And I cannot stress this enough: Do not buy anything during this period. As sad as it is, some people who sell financial products will take advantage of you during this period by convincing you that you need a product that’s really not necessary. The two most obvious reasons for putting off decisions in this manner are that (1) you are emotionally and intellectually compromised, and (2) you’re used to getting input on important decisions from your spouse.
When you are ready to tackle the important tasks, it’s critical that you seek out good counsel to act as a sounding board and to advise you on matters that you might not fully understand. A trusted financial advisor, attorney, accountant, or even a friend or family member who understands financial matters can certainly help in this regard.
First Things First
The first thing to do is to gather important financial documents. Ideally, you and your spouse have kept such documents filed so that they are easy to find. If you don’t have them organized (or if you’re not involved in the finances) and you and your spouse are still alive, this is your wake-up call.
What you’ll need to gather:
- Social Security numbers, birth and marriage certificates, any will executed by your spouse, vehicle titles, company benefit booklets, power of attorney documents, bank and brokerage account statements, military discharge papers, and insurance policies.
- Bills. This includes tax bills, mortgages, utilities, car payments, insurance premiums, and credit cards. You need to keep up with these bills to avoid costly late charges and other consequence (e.g. negative marks on your credit).
- About 20 copies of your spouse’s death certificate. This will be required to title certain assets in your personal name if they aren’t already in the name of a trust.
Preparing the Estate
While there is a lot to do beyond gathering documents, one thing you’ll surely face is the question of whether or not you should title certain assets in your personal name. The answer depends on a number of factors, like whether you and your spouse had a living trust and whether or not you wish to “disclaim” certain property, i.e. let it pass directly to your children or other heirs for beneficial tax treatment.
There are a number of additional factors to consider, and we’ll address those issues in future articles: Cash flow, social security benefits, collecting insurance and private retirement plans.
Plan Ahead to Reduce the Impact
We are here to help you, whether you recently lost a spouse and need help navigating the course ahead or, more ideally, if you want to put a plan in place now so that you’re not scrambling and feeling lost when the inevitable occurs. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but the first few callers contacting our office today will be given a planning session at no cost.