If you’ve recently become a widow or widower, you’re obviously dealing with an enormous emotional burden, and coping with your grief can seem like a full-time struggle. Unfortunately, the business of life must go on – and the financial moves you make at this time can have a big impact on your life.
So, as you attend to your affairs, consider the following suggestions:
• Don’t make hasty decisions. Even though you will need to make some moves in the near future, don’t feel rushed into decisions that may prove to be ill-advised. For example, don’t immediately sell your home or liquidate all your stocks.
• Consult with your estate planning professional. If you and your spouse created an estate plan involving a will, living trust or other documents, you’ll want to consult with your estate planning professional to determine what steps should be taken to implement these arrangements.
• Address life insurance issues. If your spouse had a life insurance policy, you’ll want to contact your insurance agent for help in navigating the paperwork necessary to receive the death benefit. Of course, some financial advisors also sell life insurance within the context of your overall financial strategy, so, if this is your situation, you’ll want to speak with your advisor about how to handle the insurance proceeds.
• Apply for Social Security benefits. If you are 60 or older, you may be entitled to Social Security survivor benefits, along with a one-time death benefit. Contact your local Social Security office to stop the benefits your spouse received and apply for the new ones for yourself.
• Change the name on financial accounts. If you and your spouse had jointly held accounts with “right of survivorship,” the assets will typically pass automatically to you, the surviving spouse. However, for legal purposes, it’s still a good idea to retitle these assets in your name. This usually only requires filling out some simple documents, which are available from your financial institutions – bank, credit union, investment firm, etc. But you also may need to change the beneficiary designations on accounts held only in your name, such as your 401(k). These designations are powerful and can even supersede instructions in your will or living trust.
• Go over bills and debts. Review all your bills, automatic payments and outstanding loans. If they are in your spouse’s name, or in both your names, contact the merchant or financial services provider to change all correspondence and account information to your name only. For any outstanding accounts in your spouse’s name, you may need to notify the business that all payments will be handled by your spouse’s estate, if you choose to go that route. You may need to provide these businesses with the contact information of your estate planning professional.
• Plan for your future. Once you’ve handled the immediate financial needs described above, you’ll want to think about your own future. This means you may have to update your estate plans and insurance policies. You’ll also want to consult with your financial advisor to see what changes, if any, you might need to make to your investment portfolio.
Only time can ease the pain of losing a spouse. But by taking care of the mundane matters of daily living, you can at least alleviate the feelings of being overwhelmed – and that, in itself, has value.
[Arnetta Tolley, Financial Advisor Edward Jones Investments 626-744-2740 or firstname.lastname@example.org.]