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The Money Team You’ll Need After the Death of a Spouse

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The emotional toll losing a spouse takes on someone is unimaginable. Life is forever changed. Your personal finances should be the last thing you’re thinking about. Unfortunately, for those who face this reality, there is a laundry list of financial items that need to be addressed — and the clock starts ticking immediately. Fortunately, there are people and professionals who can lighten the load so you can focus on what’s most important. Here’s who to turn to in your time of need.

1. Your Closest Friend or Family Member

If your spouse is the one who has died, it is likely that you are the personal representative (executor or executrix) of the estate. That means you are in charge of the settlement process. Find a helper among your family or close friends who you trust. That person can help gather the necessary documents for the rest of your support team and can also act as a liaison in certain situations. It is enormously helpful to get some things off of your plate.

2. A Trusts & Estates Attorney

You want to go to a trusts and estates attorney first because he or she has what I call a dual role. They will help you open, administer and close the estate. The attorney also can draft new documents that reflect your updated estate planning goals. This endeavor usually isn’t cheap, but can be a good investment. Because estate attorneys deal with this situation so frequently, they should know the specifics of the probate process in your state. Are you wondering where you can find an attorney? Most major metropolitan areas have estate planning councils that can point you in the right direction. If you are already using a financial planner or life insurance agent, it is likely that they will be able to give you a referral as well.

3. Your Certified Public Accountant

While we know death and taxes are certain, the former does not preclude the latter. Any income earned by the deceased in the year of death will still have to be reported on a Form 1040. Any income earned by the estate will have to be filed on a Form 1041. Gifts will have to be reported on Form 709, and your estate return may have to be filed on Form 706. Sound confusing? It is. You can employ a CPA to help you sort through these forms and help you file them before any deadlines are missed. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has a membership directory that can help you find a local expert experienced in working with widows and widowers.

4. A Financial Planner

Your financial house as you know it has to be rebuilt from scratch. Planning for widows or widowers can be much more intensive than for a couple so make sure your planner has experience in this area. You’ll need to start with cash flows to figure out not only where the money for final expenses will come from, but also to figure out how much you’ll need moving forward on a monthly basis. Lean on the planner to help you retitle all of your assets and file your life insurance claim(s). Finally, you’ll have new financial goals and should have a new financial plan to reflect them and make sure you’re on track. That plan should encompass cash-flow planning (including Social Security), risk and asset management, tax, retirement and estate planning. I always recommend using a certified financial planner because of the training standards necessary to earn that designation. (Full disclosure: I’m a certified financial planner.) The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards and the Financial Planning Association maintain a directory of planners.

5. An Insurance Agent

Unfortunately, you’ll have to review your homeowners insurance, health insurance, car insurance, life insurance and other policies. In fact, you may need more than one agent. You can ask your financial planner for guidance. It’s often best to start with healthcare, especially if you were covered by your spouse’s employer. You want to make sure you’re covered right away in case of a health event. Some policies contain what are called riders that could actually provide you some premium relief following your loss.

You are starting your financial life over again. One of the best things you can do to rebuild is get some help and make sure you have realistic expectations. This is often a long and costly journey. I recently helped a client finish up an estate settlement that had languished since November 2013. Hire people you trust and make sure they are all on the same page and communicate regularly. Life is tough enough at such a moment; you don’t want to let financial challenges make it even tougher.

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