Life Can Change in a Minute—Would You Be Prepared If Your Spouse Suddenly Died?

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Maybe it’s just something that happens more often as we get older? We should probably expect it, but we never do. We should definitely plan for it and then just hope it doesn’t happen to us. Yet in the last five or six months, I have had four clients and friends pass away unexpectedly. While they may not have been in perfect health, they certainly didn’t seem like they were knocking on death’s door. Their life ended suddenly, and the lives of their loved ones were changed forever.

I guess that if we were given a choice, we would all choose to go suddenly. It’s less painful for the one who passes away. Going to sleep one night and not waking up the next morning is better than fighting an extended and painful death. But it’s a painful shock to the family and friends who are left behind. And it’s a painful shock that gets much worse when your financial house is not in order.

Is your financial house in order? Would your loved ones know what they needed to know, or would they be put through additional and unnecessary pain when handling your affairs if you were to pass away suddenly? This post is meant to give you some things to think about that could make a terrible situation a little less terrible for your family.

We don’t like to talk about our own death. That’s why planning for it is so hard. But it doesn’t have to be. What if we phrase the question a little differently? What if, instead of asking what we want to have happen when we pass away, we ask what would happen to us if our spouse or partner passed away suddenly? Would you know how to take care of all the things that would need to be taken care of?

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Funeral plans. Wills. Trusts. Life insurance. Bank accounts. Bill payments. Creditors. Investment accounts. Retirement accounts. Annuities and pensions. Employee or retiree benefits. Tax returns. Deeds. Mortgages. Auto licenses and insurance. Homeowners insurance. Vehicle titles. These are just some of the many things you are going to need to address if your spouse or partner passes away. Would you know where to find everything you need to get things handled properly?  

The time to learn how to handle things is before you need to. And it all starts with some open conversation. Ask your significant other the questions that you would want to have answers for if something were to happen to them:  

  • Burial? Cremation? Type of memorial service, if there is to be one.

  • Where are the estate documents? Current wills and trusts will provide the instructions you will need to handle your spouse’s assets.

  • Any life insurance policies or employee benefits?

  • Any pension or annuity payments that might be reduced or disappear?

  • What happens to the bank, investment, and retirement accounts? Are the beneficiaries current? There have been cases when an ex-spouse received assets that should have gone to the current spouse because beneficiary arrangements had not been changed.

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The questions above are just the beginning of what you’ll need to know if your spouse were to pass. There is a lot going on, and when combined with the grief you would be going through, it can be a very stressful time. It will also be stressful for your spouse if you were to pass away suddenly. There’s an easy way to reduce that stress for each other. Communicate your wishes to each other, and make sure your estate documents are current. Spending a little time—and yes, probably a little money—can save a lot of heartache. 

There are lots of resources that can help you. A simple internet search can lead you to checklists, guides, and step-by-step instructions from experts. The purpose of this post wasn’t to give you the details on how to get things done. The purpose of the post is to convince you to make the process easier by having a “just in case” plan in place.

Schedule a 15-minute discovery call with a fee-only financial advisor to discuss your personal situation.