When you get married, you anticipate a lifetime together. To make the most of that time together, it’s important to have a plan in place. And, as Ameritrade reveals in a press release from 2017, the majority of couples don’t have a financial plan. And not having a plan can make life more difficult, especially for seniors whose role in the marriage did not include money management. If you find yourself in a position to help a loved one in this situation, the following six tips offer practical advice to keep them afloat during turbulent financial times.
Gather Essential Documents
When someone dies, documentation is required before collecting life insurance, workplace pension, military benefits, or Social Security. Help your loved one gather the documents they will need. This may include copies of insurance policies, military discharge records, their marriage certificate, the deceased person’s Social Security number, and, perhaps most importantly, several copies of the death certificate.
Handle Immediate Needs
While the goal of creating a financial plan is to meet the surviving spouse’s long-term needs, there are short-term expenses that need immediate attention. The most pressing of these will be funeral costs. If their spouse had a burial policy, present this to the funeral home, which may be able to handle the service before the insurance company settles the claim. If your senior loved one is 65 or older, they may also wish to review their Medicare. It’s essential to ensure their health needs are covered and that they won’t be hit with unexpected expenses they can’t afford. It is not unusual for a grieving spouse to experience a decline in their health in the months and years following the loss. Encourage them to consider a Medicare Advantage upgrade to keep costs down, though it’s important to learn about these plans beforehand.
Contact Pertinent Agencies
With the aforementioned papers in hand, the widow/widower can begin contacting the Social Security office and other entities in which the spouse may have had accounts or left benefits through. They will need to present a copy of the death certificate to everyone from the cable company to the bank if their accounts were held solely in their spouse’s name.
To report the death of a veteran or to collect military spouse benefits, your loved one will need to contact the VA and, possibly, the Federal Office of Personnel Management, and the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.
Evaluate Their Budget and Income
Losing a spouse changes the math of household operation. There may be fewer expenses in the form of lower utility and grocery bills, but there may also be less money coming in than before. Help your loved one track their current expenses, assets, and income and stay on top of bill payments. You may need to access the deceased spouse’s email account to discover any non-paper bills they paid, so have the information on hand.
If circumstances allow, remind them that they do not have to rush to make big decisions, such as moving or closing bank accounts. It’s best to wait at least 12 months until they establish a new sense of normalcy and can make decisions with a clear head.
Approach the Hard Decisions
The hardest decisions a widow or widower has to make relate to housing and whether to get rid of their spouse’s belongings. Talk to them about the kind of lifestyle they wish to lead now that they are single. Do they need access to medical care? Do they want to be closer to family, or live out their days in a retirement community on the beach? See Legacy.com for more questions that must be answered before making the decision to relocate.
There is no easy way to cope with the loss of a spouse or partner. However, there are ways you can help alleviate some of the practical and emotional burdens associated with financial matters. Be gentle throughout the process, and don’t be afraid to get other family members involved if you need a helping hand of your own.