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Settling Up: Your Financial Future: Part 13 of Financial Considerations When You Lose Your Spouse

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

It’s Valentine’s Day, 2020, and if you’re facing it without your long-time Valentine for the first time, it’s going to be a tough day. It’s not like you celebrated it that heavily after decades of marriage: roses seemed a silly waste of money and who can plow their way through a box of chocolates at middle age? But that sustaining, buoying, constant well of love was always valentining it up in the background. At some point, the roses and chocolate caramels just gilded the lily.

In our series on how to manage finances after the death of a spouse, we’re exploring tips from FINRA, a reliable financial source. Today, in our last article, Tip 13: Settling Up Your Financial Future.

In the months after death, there is so much to do. The list of relatively immediate action items is long, tedious, and depressing. The eventual, continuing, additional list, especially the stuff that pertains to financial organization, is longer, more tedious, and wildly depressing, in part because it underscores the finality of what has happened and in part because it is so inefficient and maddening.

I’ve worked with many widows during this phase. In order to settle the post-death money aspect of 401(k)s, IRAs, employment benefits, Social Security, banks, brokerages, DMVs, etc., etc., you have to spend hours on the phone talking and waiting and talking and waiting and arguing and repeating. It can be overwhelming to have to contact multiple banks, insurance companies, and brokerages to figure out where your money is and to change ownership. Just finding the phone number is a trial, and then when you finally locate it, the confusing option choices and robot voices keep you from talking to a real person. And once you get there, half the time the person transfers you to another robot before you can even state the problem.

It can be very beneficial to have a CFP® like me or a helpful friend to make some of these calls with you. During those long chunks of hold time, you can chat and joke. When you interact with unhelpful, unreasonable jerks of agents – and you will! – you can commiserate with each other. A buddy can also help you take notes of all the calls – you want to write down names, dates, and all the information that was told to you. Because in many cases, you’ll be back on the phone with the same company two weeks later trying to get the same thing done and having all the data and info from the previous call sometimes helps. Even with that, the representatives may still insist that you wrote the info down wrong. But it never hurts to have notes.

I don’t mean to sound wholly negative here. In some cases, the ownership transfer goes smoothly! And most of the reps are nice and try to do things right but are held up by the complications of the systems and rules of the companies they work for. But when things don’t go smoothly, it takes up a lot of your time and is very frustrating; having someone with you is very nice. An additional tip - posthumous identity theft is a real problem, and this guide from Paul Bischoff of Comparitech, a pro-consumer website providing information, tools, reviews and comparisons to help improve cyber security and online privacy, offers ideas to guard against cybercrime.

We covered a number of important financial topics in our exploration of FINRA’s tips for widows. This is the final article in our series on financial advice for widows. Thank you for joining me.

Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner ™, adjunct professor, and financial literacy educator has written numerous articles and several books. She works to help clients and readers understand and act on complex financial information to keep them and their money safe. She functions as a strong advocate and guiding light for her clients as they move through murky and unfamiliar financial and career worlds. Read more on her website.

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1 Comment

Phillip Lemmons
Phillip Lemmons
Feb 09, 2023

Intestates (those who die without a will) who hold property after their deaths fall under laws dictated by the state that lay out specifically how and to whom these assets are given.

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