TOP TEN THINGS
every woman should do BEFORE the death of her spouse:
1. Inventory physical and non-physical items.
Make a list of items in your home of value. Jewelry, power tools, computers, guns, collectibles, etc. Make a list of non-physical items such as brokerage accounts, life insurance policies, 401(k) plans, IRA assets, bank accounts, life insurance policies, long-term care policies, annuities, etc.Know your Social Security benefits. Lump sum benefits and/or month benefits may be payable to spouse/children. Know information on the spouse’s employer, approximate earnings for the last two years, and where to locate tax returns, marriage certificate, and Social Security numbers for spouse and children.
2. Know where to locate important papers.
Know where stock and bond certificates, partnership papers, power of attorney, wills, trust, bank documents, medical records, and others are located. Passwords for computers and online accounts are also important. Have all of this information saved somewhere and give access to a third person in the event you and your spouse should pass at the same time.
3. Know what benefits are available to you from Social Security.
Lump sum benefits and/or monthly benefits may be payable to spouse and/or children. Know information on your spouse’s employer, approximate earnings for the last two years, and where to locate tax returns, marriage certificate, and Social Security numbers for spouse and children.
4. Review accounts for updated beneficiary information.
Wills do not insure that your assets pass to your loved ones. Beneficiary designations are the only way to ensure your assets go to those you intend since in many cases a beneficiary designation trumps what your will says. Life insurance, annuities, 401(k) should be reviewed to ensure proper beneficiary designations. Bank accounts and CD accounts in local banks normally do not go through probate if they are jointly owned. Brokerage accounts (even if titled “joint” in Louisiana), normally go through probate. There are important exceptions —ask us for a full explanation.
5. Select a financial planner with whom you and your spouse are comfortable.
This should be someone you trust to be with you for the decisions you will make for the rest of your life.
6. If your spouse is a veteran:
Government life insurance and/or veterans benefits may be available.
7. Initiate important estate planning documents.
This is extremely important since waiting too long can be a disaster. At the very least, everyone should have a will, especially in Louisiana where the surviving spouse can end up with the very short end of the stick. Powers of attorney are essential as well as possible trusts where minor children are involved —or even older children with spending problems or special needs.
8. Select an executor and/or trustee.
Once your estate planning documents are in place, it is important to select your executor (for a will) or trustee (for a trust). This person is responsible for seeing that your wishes are carried out after your death. You should think about how a death would impact the decision making ability of that person.
9. Know your outstanding debt.
This should include a list of credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, and so on. It is important to know that some assets are frozen after a death and there should be a way of making sure debts are handled during this difficult time.
10. Discuss burial wishes with your spouse.
Consider pre-planning or at least a clear statement of your wishes. We often see total confusion over what a deceased spouse would have wanted. This can lead to delays and to family friction at at time that is already very stressful.