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How to Navigate the Passing of Your Spouse

Part 1: Preparing

No one is ever truly prepared for the loss of a spouse. And what is already an emotionally challenging life transition can be even more difficult if a couple doesn't have a comprehensive financial plan that's designed to support both people together and separately. In this three-part series, I'll discuss how to Prepare for, Cope with, and Move forward from the death of a spouse, and how Keen Wealth's planning process can help. 

1. Prepare your estate plan. 

The best time to have a conversation with your spouse about your estate plan and end-of-life care is before you need to have it. Even under ideal circumstances, this is going to be an emotional discussion. Don't compound the challenge by putting yourself in a position where you need to make life and death decisions quickly.

So, brew a pot of coffee or go for a long walk, and take an hour or two to talk about how you want to be cared for in the event you can't speak for yourself, who your beneficiaries will be, and who should be the executor of your estate.

Once you have a broad idea of what you want your estate plan to look like, you can work with your financial advisor and attorney to prepare the following documents for each of you:

  • Last Will and Testament, which outlines your last wishes and explains how you want your estate to be distributed to your heirs and any other beneficiaries, such as charitable organizations.
  • Power of Attorney that authorizes someone you trust to act on your behalf while you’re still alive, in the event that you are incapacitated or unable to make decisions. Be aware that your designee only has power of attorney while you are still alive.
  • Healthcare Directive dictating how you would like to be cared for in the event that you become incapacitated.
  • Living Will designating a person to be in charge of making important medical choices on your behalf if you are unable to. This person might use your healthcare directive as a guide, or you can explain the thought process you want your designee to go through to aid in their decision-making.
  • Living Trust for those who may have a more complex situation or wish to keep their situations private.

Additionally, you and your spouse need to know where to find all your important documents: copies of your estate plans, copies of I.D., insurance plans, banking info, passwords for important online accounts, etc.

Finally, I believe that we all have much more to leave to our loved ones than just money and possessions. That's why, at Keen Wealth, an estate plan is one (very important) part of a broader legacy plan. We encourage couples to talk about their most important life lessons, their personal values, and the best ways to preserve that wisdom for the next generation.

2. Discuss your finances openly. 

Many of today's married seniors lived and worked during a time when the man usually earned and managed the money, and the woman ran the household. Although, we have had situations where the woman handled all of the finances. We also know that, on average, women outlive men.

Now, you might think I'm talking in outdated generalities and stereotypes here. Every couple certainly has a different dynamic, but the reality is that I'm speaking from decades of experience working with thousands of couples. For many retirees today, one spouse took the lead on the finances. There is an added level of sadness, stress, and worry when you're advising a widow or widower in their 70s who doesn't know how their portfolio works, doesn't know what's in their retirement savings, and now has to figure out how to take care of themself without running out of money.

At Keen Wealth, we ask couples to be equally involved in the financial planning process. By just attending an annual meeting with your advisor together, we can facilitate a dialogue that demystifies the plan for both spouses, creates alignment on long-term financial goals, and reduces the chance of surprises around money at the worst possible moment.

3. Review your health coverage every year.

During the annual Open Enrollment period in November, seniors can review and change their Medicare coverage. It's imperative that you review your options every year, especially if you or your spouse are dealing with new medical issues that could be life-altering or life-threatening.

Working with a health care professional can help you get the care you need, but just as importantly, a pro can help you pinpoint things you might need that Medicare is not going to pay for, such as long-term care. If you think you or your spouse will need to stay in a nursing facility or receive in-home treatment in the near future, loop in your financial advisor to discuss some potential strategies and adjustments to your financial plan.

4. Broaden your support network. 

Many of the things I've talked about today are proactive steps that, hopefully, couples take when they're younger and in good health. Checking off these items provides a broad level of financial and legal support that we all need.

But if you know that your spouse is nearing the end of his or her life, the only thing harder than preparing for that loss is going through it alone. As uncomfortable as it may be, open up to your loved ones. Ask for help when you need it, whether that means arranging transportation to doctor's appointments or someone who will sit and listen after a hard day. Give your loved ones a chance to say goodbye, and give yourself the time, space, and support you need to process your own feelings.  

You should also be able to count on your financial advisor to help you make sure that your spouse's estate plan is up to date so that, when the time comes, settling that estate will go as smoothly as possible. At Keen Wealth, we pride ourselves on being that caring professional resource when our clients need us the most.

Part 2-- Coping with the Loss of a Spouse

About Bill

Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.

KWMG, LLC’s dba Keen Wealth Advisors (“company”) is an SEC Registered Investment Advisor located in Overland Park, KS. The company and its representatives may only conduct business in those states where registered or where excluded/exempt or from licensure. For registration information please contact the SEC or the state securities regulators for the states where the company is notice filed. A copy of the company ADV is available upon request. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where the company and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by the company unless a client service agreement is in place. This information is not intended to be investment advice or construed as a recommendation or endorsement of any particular investment or investment strategy and is for illustrative purposes only. Clients and prospective clients must consider all relevant risk factors involved with each strategy, including costs or fees, and their own personal financial situations before trading.

The views outlined in the book, Keen on Retirement Engineering the Second Half of Your Life, are those of the author and should not be construed as individualized or personalized investment advice. Any economic and/or performance information cited is historical and not indicative of future results. Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted.

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