Last week you were introduced to my friend Grace who was recently widowed. She and her husband had the difficult conversations while he was alive and discussed what the future may hold if one of them were to pass. In doing this while he was alive, she was much better prepared to handle the financial responsibilities of widowhood. The rewards were most worthwhile and helped make a very difficult time a little bit easier for her to deal with. Below are a few practical financial matters to be dealt with by widows and widowers.
How are your assets owned? Is everything titled as joint tenants with rights of survivorship (JTWROS)? If the answer is yes, transfers occur immediately, but this isn’t always the best choice. If property was owned as tenants in common it will go through probate. If property was owned by a trust, the terms of that trust will determine how the property will be distributed. If there is no will, you’ll need to go through probate. You’ll also need to identify ownership of and transfer titles of bank accounts, real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and retirement plans. Call your lawyer and financial advisor for assistance.
Be sure to contact the Social Security Administration, current and past employers and any life insurance companies to determine and obtain all benefits you may be entitled to. Don’t forget to check on military benefits if your spouse was in the service. This may be an overwhelming task so start with just one phone call at a time.
If you’re the beneficiary of your spouse’s plans you have several options and choices to make on how to receive the benefits. Start by contacting the custodian or trustee of the plan. The selections you make on how to receive these funds are critical to your future financial well-being, so be sure to consult a trusted financial professional for guidance. And don’t forget to update your beneficiaries on retirement plans and life insurance policies.
Coverage will depend on your age and your spouse’s employment status. If covered by an employee group plan you’re probably eligible for continued coverage at a cost through COBRA or you may qualify for Medicare.
Seek professional tax advice and request IRS Publication 559 for survivors. You may file a joint tax return and claim an exemption for your spouse in the year he or she dies. If there was a life insurance policy owned by your spouse or if proceeds of a policy were payable to the estate, the death benefit may be included in the estate for estate tax purposes.
Grace’s husband was a savvy investor. He enjoyed keeping up with the markets and monitoring their investments each day. Grace’s primary concern was to identify income sources and evaluate her expenses. Then she determined if the investments were suitable for her needs and risk tolerance. This allowed her to ensure that her immediate and longterm financial needs would be met. Again, it’s helpful to seek professional advice as you work through these choices.
As you can see, there are many important financial matters to consider. You’ll want to coordinate efforts among the team of professionals you already have in place. It’s much easier to develop these relationships over time rather starting from scratch during a crisis.
Here are a few of the key players in your important decision making: Financial advisor, accountant, attorney, employer’s benefit department and insurance agents.
Over a decade ago as new residents of Southwest Florida, we educated ourselves on proper hurricane preparedness procedures. We took the necessary actions and implemented a plan. We share the details with family members and revisit our plan each year; just in case. The peace of mind of being prepared is priceless. In the event of an emergency the last thing we need is to be searching and scrambling for important documents or contact information. Instead we’re available to help our friends and neighbors.
Lack of preparation is one reason many widows and widowers face financial hardship. It doesn’t have to happen to you. Give yourself the gift of organizing and arranging ahead of time. If you do experience the unfortunate loss of a spouse, at least you’ll be as ready as you can be. There’s no better time than now to take control of the things you can. And in the meantime, after you’ve done your homework, enjoy each other’s company.
Darcie Guerin, Financial Advisor & Branch Manager, Raymond James & Associates, Inc. located at 606 Bald Eagle Drive, Suite 401, Marco Island, and FL 34145 provides this article. If you have questions please contact Darcie Guerin via e-mail at Darcie.Guerin@RaymondJames.com. Phone (239) 389-1041, toll free (866)-343-0882 or at RaymondJames.com/Darcie. Past performance may not be indicative of future results.