You can’t overestimate the difficulty people have with the decisions, intense emotions, and consequences that accompany the death of a family member. We recently encountered this situation with long-term clients John and Jane*.
In this situation, John always took full responsibility for the couple’s finances, and when he passed away unexpectedly, Jane realized very quickly how little she knew about their financial affairs.
After John’s passing, Jane was overwhelmed and in a period of immense grief. Adding to the difficulty of the situation was the fact that she had no idea where to begin settling the affairs of the estate. Due to our long-term relationship with John and Jane, she reached out to us for guidance and we were able to quickly get to work assisting her during this time of emotional and financial uncertainty.
The most important thing we can do in this type of situation is provide emotional support. In the time immediately following a loved one’s passing, it’s easy to become inundated with financial concerns and forget to allow yourself to grieve. It is a time when the surviving spouse or family member is engulfed in a range of emotions, and most likely to make a financial mistake.
We counseled Jane to focus on herself and her family first, to go through the grieving process, and to address the funeral preparation; her financial concerns could wait until our next meeting. We helped her organize her bills and incoming mail, with the understanding that we would address them with her when the time was appropriate.
We have learned that throughout this process there are many questions, and if they aren’t written down, they tend to be forgotten. Because of this, we sent Jane a notebook and a pen to write down her concerns, thoughts, and anything else that came to mind for us to discuss. This allowed her to devote her attention to her family and seek comfort in loved ones during this emotionally-trying time.
When the right time came, we sat down with Jane at her home and assisted her with her financial life, including paperwork, bills, insurance needs, and financial accounts, and addressed any concerns she had written down.
Jane’s story is just one example of how difficult it can be to plan for the transition of running your household in the event of a loved one's passing. It’s even harder if the surviving spouse was not involved in the day-to-day management of the family’s financial picture.
On top of these concerns, losing a spouse is devastating, and it’s important to have help and support from family, friends, and trusted advisors during this difficult time. As unpleasant as it can be to address the eventual passing of a loved one, here are three things you should think about now to help make these transitions easier for everyone involved.
1. Preparation is Key
The key to preserving assets for your beneficiaries, while avoiding the common pitfalls that accompany loss, is preparation and planning. While you can’t anticipate every possible outcome, you can take steps to ensure that you have adequate insurance coverage and legal documents, including a last will and testament, that specifically outline your wishes.
You can work with your advisor to craft a comprehensive estate plan, including a survivor assistance plan, to address the needs of your surviving family. With this type of plan in place, your loved ones can focus on what’s important instead of feeling overwhelmed and being forced into hurried financial decisions that could become costly mistakes.
2. The Extraordinary Impact of Unexpected Events
In addition to processing the grief that comes with losing a loved one, there are numerous financial decisions that need to be made in a timely manner, including:
- How do I handle the financial and legal concerns?
- How much time do I have to complete all the business associated with my loved one’s passing?
- How do I claim my survivor benefits?
These decisions can be difficult on their own, but are overwhelming when coupled with the death of a spouse or beloved family member.
3. The Importance of a Trusted Advisor
At RAA, we have found that a trusted advisor can be a meaningful anchor during the tough times following the death of a loved one, and we have spent years developing our Survivor Assistance Program to do just that. This is especially true of long-term relationships in which the advisor is extremely knowledgeable about your family’s individual circumstances and familiar with the family dynamics.
As in the case of Jane, an advisor with whom you have a strong relationship can be a great ally in times of financial and emotional uncertainty.
Equally as important to RAA’s Survivor Assistance Program is the assistance we provide during a time of incapacity. We have learned over the years that long-term illnesses and memory issues can be just as stressful to family members as the death of a loved one. Because of this, we understand the importance of being prepared in the event of incapacity, and have structured a comparable program to provide assistance should you or a family member become incapacitated.
RAA Can Help
If you do not feel your family is prepared if you or your spouse passes away or becomes incapacitated, we can help. We have extensive experience with the complex factors of estate planning, assisting with the incapacity of a loved one, as well as providing guidance to surviving spouses and family members after a loved one’s passing.
Request a call with an advisor at RAA today to learn more about our estate planning services and survivor and incapacity assistance, and find out why it’s so important to have the peace of mind that your loved ones are protected, should something unexpected happen.
RAA has also developed a Survivor Handbook to assist you during one of the most challenging times you may face after the passing of a loved one. While there is not an answer for every situation, we hope this handbook will assist you in getting organized, knowing who to contact for various issues, as well as provide you with basic educational information on this difficult topic.
*All names and locations have been changed to protect the privacy of those featured in these stories.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual investment advice. Actual recommendations are provided by RAA following consultation and are custom-tailored to each investor’s unique needs and circumstances. The information contained herein is from sources believed to be accurate and reliable. However, RAA accepts no legal responsibility for any errors or omissions. Investments in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds may increase or decrease in value. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Any of the charts and graphs included in this blog are not recommendations for the purchase and sale of any security.