5 Ways to Prepare for the Death of a Spouse
Planning for the death of a loved one, especially a spouse, is understandably difficult and overwhelming. The loss of a spouse is devastating, and the emotional impact is unimaginable. However, the grieving process can be made even more distressing for the surviving spouse if they were not included in financial decisions and planning before their spouse’s death.
It is common in a marriage for one spouse to take the lead with finances. While it may seem logical to leave financial decisions and planning to the more knowledgeable spouse, this can create serious problems if that spouse passes away. In addition to mourning the loss of a partner, the surviving spouse can experience a reduction in income, insufficient funds to pay funeral expenses and bills without access to bank accounts, and a general lack of direction and understanding of household finances. Therefore, it is essential for married couples to plan ahead.
Married individuals can prepare for the death of a spouse by following these 5 tips:
Talk about finances with your spouse
It is important for both spouses to have knowledge of household finances. Spouses should discuss how finances, including income and expenses, would change if something unexpected happened to either of them. Both spouses should know all sources of income, understand what insurance is in place, and attend meetings with trusted professionals, such as financial planners, CPAs, estate planning attorneys and insurance agents.
Consolidate bank accounts
It is common for spouses to keep separate bank accounts to hold individual savings. However, without naming the surviving spouse on the account or putting the individual account in a trust, the surviving spouse will likely have to incur probate expenses to acquire the asset. This can be avoided by adding the other spouse as a beneficiary to the account, or by ensuring that there are one or more joint bank accounts with sufficient funds to pay for emergency expenses. In addition, fewer accounts can make it easier to track and manage finances.
Consider naming both spouses on bills
Married individuals should consider naming both spouses on basic bills for utilities, such as phone, gas, electric, cable TV and Internet. If something were to happen to one spouse, the surviving spouse would still need these services even if they are not named on the account, and some utility companies may charge certain fees to continue service if the individual does not have a documented history with them. Both spouses should consult with their utility providers about how to add more than one name on an account.
Spouses should make a list of the financial institutions where they have accounts, account numbers and contact persons. The list should also include household assets, liabilities, incomes, and mortgage, insurance and retirement plans, as well as a list of all bills that need to be paid and information about how to pay them.
Have current and valid estate plans
Each spouse should have, at a minimum: 1) a will to convey wishes about how assets will be distributed and name beneficiaries, 2) a power of attorney to name someone to manage financial and legal matters, and 3) an advance directive to request and refuse medical treatment and designate someone to make medical decisions on their behalf. These documents, as well as beneficiary designations and joint account designations, should be periodically reviewed and updated to reflect current wishes. An experienced Maryland Estate Planning Attorney can assist you in developing a strategy and long-range plan to protect you, your family and your business.