While the unexpected can happen to anyone, no one ever expects a tragedy to befall on him or her. As a couple, what can you do to prepare for the unthinkable? It can be a hard and, frankly, uncomfortable conversation to initiate. However, planning for the unimaginable is a gift you can give each other. Grief alone can be devastating, but when faced with all of the paperwork associated with the passing of a loved one, it can be truly overwhelming.
Make a will; include an advance directive and/or health care proxy if any major medical decision(s) are needed on a partner’s behalf. If you have younger children, you will need to name a caregiver, as well as an executor to handle their financial matters until they come of age. You may want to set-up trusts at this time.
- Do you have life insurance policies, either through work or purchased independently? Understand the financial implications to your partner and family with or without them.
- Put all of your personal and financial information in one place – a binder or safe that includes a listing/spreadsheet (along with original documents) of your social security information, birth certificates, marriage license, car titles, home/land purchase, retirement account(s); savings & checking accounts, safe deposit box, investment accounts, college savings accounts, etc. Include the name of any brokers you may use, account numbers, listed beneficiaries, phone numbers, and passwords for on-line account access, etc. If you don’t want it on your computer, then print out a form and hand write the information onto it, and keep it a safe and secure place that you both know. See starter sample [here].
- List out every billable account you have in either one name, or both. This includes mortgage, utilities, water, homeowners & car insurance, life insurance, car titles, professional consultants (i.e. lawyer, accountant, etc.), online accounts (i.e. Amazon, PayPal, Spotify), paid apps, club memberships, etc. Know the account numbers and phone number to contact them to make any changes. We would recommend including both spouses/partners names on accounts whenever possible because it is much easier to convert accounts to the surviving spouse/partner. This is particularly true for credit cards. Some banks and credit card companies will immediately close a credit card account if it is only in your spouse’s name, which could affect your access to money, not to mention your credit rating.
- Who is the primary account holder of your medical insurance? Write down account numbers and contact information; learn if insurance immediately ends upon death of a partner, or if it extends through the month. Have a back-up plan for continued coverage.
- Know your spouse’s/partner’s work contact information. You will need to communicate with them and determine if you have equipment they want back, if any outstanding payments are due, including commissions, HSA accounts, retirement savings, etc. You will need to be sure all final payments are received before removing a spouse/partner name from your bank account or the checks may go to probate.
- Know passwords for computer(s), phone(s), accounts you access, including social accounts liked LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. You may want to shut them down or modify the listing. Because so many of your partners contacts may be saved on their cell phone or social accounts, you may want to be able to access the information in order to share the news with friends and family before closing them down.
- Keep the Social Security Administration’s number on file. They will be one of your first contacts because they alert credit agencies to help eliminate the chance for fraud. Criminals like to prey on those who have recently lost loved ones. You (or your children) may also qualify for benefits, which they can help you determine.
- Discuss your final wishes with your partner. Is he/she an organ donor; does he/she want to be buried, cremated, celebrated, no services or privately held services, readings, etc.? Do they have a favorite charity? As awful as it sounds, it can be very comforting knowing what your partner envisioned should they pass away.
Some people are fortunate to have great family/friend support systems that step in to help when tragedy strikes, but they can only do so much. By being prepared, it will help to avoid the added burden at a time when a surviving partner is already grieving. It is well worth the time and peace of mind to have it consolidated in one place.
If we can lend support in any way, including gifting, or trust and estate planning, along with tax implications of financial decisions, please contact us at 401-831-0200.