For most of us the word “change” brings about some rather unsettling thoughts. Generally speaking, we are creatures of habit who tend to find comfort and a sense of safety in the relative predictability of our day-to-day routines. As a result, we often avoid thinking about, let alone planning for, the possibility of life changing events – especially something as devastating as the death of a spouse or close family member.
Yet no matter how unpleasant, it’s a universal concern that everyone needs to prepare for. And because women on average live longer, it’s advice that especially holds true for them. In fact, 90% of women will have sole responsibility for their financial affairs at some point in their lives (Source: Women & Money).
Unfortunately, I know this all too well from personal experience, as my husband of 37 years passed away suddenly almost three years ago at age 63. Having my advisory team in place was one of the things that helped me the most, in my hour of need.
The loss of one’s partner or close family member is a time of great stress and emotional upheaval. The last thing you want to be doing in the immediate aftermath is scrambling to find essential legal and financial documents or making important financial decisions.
With that in mind, make an effort now to develop a better understanding of your complete financial picture. Familiarize yourself with all your family’s assets and liabilities including bank and investment accounts, insurance policies, real estate holdings, as well as any outstanding loans. Review the beneficiary designations for insurance policies and retirement accounts. Make sure you have a well-organized and easily accessible emergency file that contains all your important documents such as wills, trusts, and insurance policies, along with all account numbers and passwords for online accounts. Include business cards with contacts and phone numbers for various institutions you do business with.
A more complete guide to getting organized appears in an article written by Chief Fiduciary Officer, Leslie Gillin Bohner, Esq. With a helpful template for creating a Contingency Plan List, the article can be found here.
Additionally, if you have not had credit in your own name, it’s important that you build your own credit history. You can begin by establishing a credit card or opening a line of credit, solely in your name.
Involve your family
Many parents, whether due to discomfort around broaching the topic or an unwillingness to disclose their financial affairs, fail to ever discuss their estate plan with their adult children. Not only does this render family members uninformed should something happen to the parent, it leaves the family unprepared to make smart decisions regarding pressing financial matters. Now is the time to introduce your children to your advisory team so that they can become personally connected to professionals who can help to educate and prepare them to navigate the financial challenges ahead. The experts at Pennsylvania Trust stand ready to meet with your children, grandchildren, and other family members.
Finally, if an unexpected event such as a loved one’s death or a health crisis does unfortunately occur, bring together as much expertise and insight as possible. Encourage your attorney, accountant, and insurance agent to work together with your Pennsylvania Trust advisor to ensure that all your legal, financial, and tax obligations are addressed in a timely and coordinated manner.
With our staff of attorneys, financial planners, trust officers, investment managers, and tax professionals, we have an abundance of talented individuals with deep expertise to help you as you prepare for the unexpected and deal with the challenges associated with these life-changing events.
Ms. Lansinger is Senior Vice President and Director of Marketing and Client Development at Pennsylvania Trust.