Part 2: Coping with the Loss of a Spouse
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. Contact your spouse's legal representatives.
When your spouse passes, hopefully you have a support network that can help you navigate the grieving process and communicate with friends and family.
But at the same time, a person's death puts a complicated legal and financial process into motion. As soon as possible, get in touch with:
- Your spouse's executor (if you're not so designated in your spouse's estate plan)
- Your spouse's attorney
- Your spouse's financial advisor
At Keen Wealth, we want our clients to feel comfortable making one of the "first calls" to us. We can help you coordinate with other parties. And our checklist-driven process can be a big help as you move through the next steps.
2. Gather your spouse's personal documents.
In part one of this series, I recommended locating all your spouse's important documents, including his or her estate plan, government identification cards, banking info, insurance policies, and passwords to online accounts. Now, if you haven't already, make sure you scan these documents and make some hard copies that you can give to bankers, attorneys, etc.
You'll also need to add a legal pronouncement of death to your file. If your spouse passes away at a hospital, the staff will take care of this for you. If he or she passes away at home, call your spouse's doctor and someone at the office should be able to help.
3. Prepare to put your spouse to rest.
Your next calls should be related to the funeral and burial plans outlined in your spouse's estate plan. For many folks, that means calling a funeral home, which will coordinate transportation of your spouse's remains and help you start planning the services your spouse wanted. The funeral home should also report your spouse's death to the Social Security Administration and help you obtain a death certificate, which you'll need when dealing with government and financial institutions. Again, you may need more than one, so order five or more official, certified copies.
If your spouse was a military veteran, you should also contact the Veteran’s Administration to ask about burial and survivor's benefits.
Making these arrangements can be emotionally taxing and overwhelming. Don't hesitate to reach out to friends and family who can help you make calls, narrow down decisions, and hold your hand at the end of the day.
4. Contact financial and government institutions.
Next, you'll need to start working through your spouse's finances.
Call your spouse's financial institutions and insurers to see what kinds of documentation they require. But before you make any decisions about closing accounts or transferring money, talk to your financial advisor about the best plan of action around things like estate tax and, depending on where you live, inheritance tax.
Call the Social Security Administration or visit your local office to confirm that the funeral home reported your spouse’s death and to apply for survivor's benefits. The SSA is supposed to cancel your spouse's Medicare plan but keep an eye out on your first few bank statements to make sure you aren't still getting charged.
If your spouse was still working or receiving a pension, also call his or her former employer to see if there are any payments or benefits due to you.
5. Review online accounts, memberships, subscriptions, service plans, and personal items.
Finally, we move down to some checklist items that aren't as pressing as the above, but that you shouldn't overlook.
If your spouse was an avid social media or email user, log in to those accounts and look for any pictures or messages you want to save before closing the accounts.
Next, review memberships and other recurring charges that were unique to your spouse, or that you might not want to continue on your own. For example, you might want to keep your club membership if that will still be an important part of your social life. But your spouse's cell phone and magazine subscriptions should be cancelled.
Finally, think about what you want to do with your spouse's personal effects that weren't bequeathed in his or her will. Your first instinct might be to call in friends and family for help. But even the smallest personal possessions can take on extra sentimental value after a death. The last thing you need right now is your kids fighting over knick-knacks.
If you can manage, make a first pass yourself and decide what you want to keep, what you might want to give to specific friends and family members, what to donate, and what to throw away.
6. Sit down with your financial advisor.
After you have worked through the immediate issues, give yourself some personal space to grieve, to reflect, to remember. Everyone is going to process this life transition in a different way. Take the time you need to find your own personal path forward.
Once you're ready, set up a meeting with your financial advisor. My team at Keen Wealth is happy to thoroughly review your financial plan, highlight areas to consider making adjustments, and review any new goals you’d like us to help you meet. Our process can relieve some of your financial worry so that you can focus on what’s most important right now and prepare for the next chapter of your retirement.
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.
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