Preparing for the Unexpected

Unexpected circumstances can happen, so don't put off writing your will.

6-30-2016 PreparingUS News' May 6 article, "Why You Should Prepare Now for the Death of a Spouse," notes that we've all heard horrible stories where the widow knew nothing about the family finances and was either blindsided by debt or taken advantage of by people who offered to help her manage her finances. So, even though it's not very pleasant, it's prudent for both spouses to be prepared for the other spouse's death—even if both intend to live for a long time.

This is a big job. Here are some of the important steps to take to prepare for the worst.

Make certain your documents are in order. This should include life insurance policies, wills, property deeds, car titles, and bank account and investment details. Both spouses should know the location of these and make sure they are up to date.

Don't neglect a will. Yes, you know you need to have one. No, don't put it off until next month or next year. Here's a cautionary tale that highlights why it's important to get a will written immediately. A 30-ish wife with two young boys saw her husband die unexpectedly. He didn't have a will, and state law said that half of his assets should go to his wife and half to the kids. Okay, that sounds good. However, the kids were young, and the money went into a court-controlled account that she couldn't get to without going to court for appointment as their guardian. As a result, she had to get permission from the court every time she wanted to use the funds.

Organize your passwords. There will be all kinds of headaches if you can't access a bank account because your spouse had a special password you don't know. Spouses should make a list of passwords for all online accounts. This includes 401(k)s, investments, bank accounts, and social media. The list should be stored in a location known by both spouses and their adult children.

Plan now and eliminate headaches later. It's much less costly to work things out now rather than waiting until you're grieving and emotionally drained. The better organized and prepared you are, the more concisely you can communicate your wishes and the faster your estate planning attorney can prepare your documents.

Reference: US News (May 6, 2016) "Why You Should Prepare Now for the Death of a Spouse"

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