QUESTION: Several of my friends recently lost their spouses and have commented on some of the difficulties they are facing due to lack of information on financial matters, people who should be contacted and legal issues. Can you provide some steps that should be taken to avoid this type of problem?
ANSWER: An excellent question and one that couples should address now – before a death occurs leaving the surviving spouse in the dark about the why, what, where and when they need to know.
To start this exchange of information you will need to make sure that all important papers are located so the surviving spouse can easily find them. They should be stored in a fire proof box and include deeds, passports, insurance policies, wills, trusts, advance directives for health care, power of attorneys and current statements from financial accounts.
This provides the perfect opportunity to review each document to make sure it is current and understood, also a good opportunity to review how and when bills are paid. Some may be paid by check or credit card while others may be automatically deducted from a checking account. This type of information will help the surviving spouse avoid missing a payment or overdrawing an account.
If records are kept on the computer then the passwords needed to access these records should be shared. A master list of all user names and passwords would be most helpful. Along with this information the list should include a “must call list.” These entries should include your accountant, lawyer or financial professionals.
This would also be an excellent opportunity to discuss income. What are the family’s sources of income and will any of these sources be eliminated with the death of the payee or will it be continued at the full or a partial amount.
Next items to be reviewed would be your legal papers. If you don’t have a will or trust, an advance directive for health care or a power-of-attorney for finances this is the time to have these documents completed. If you do have these documents in place now is the time to review them. These documents should be reviewed every few years or when a change such as a death, birth, marriage, divorce or adoption occurs.
Each party needs to have a financial power-of-attorney and an advance directive for health care. The power-of-attorney names a person to make money decisions for you if you cannot do so for yourself. Make sure this document is a “durable” power-of-attorney. An advance directive for health care will designate the person you want to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.
Some financial accounts need to have a beneficiary designated. These accounts include pensions, 401(k)s, IRAs, life insurance, and brokerage accounts. Make sure the beneficiaries named are current.
This list of suggestions is not an easy list to talk about – but once discussed and plans made and paper work done it is a relief to know that when a death occurs the surviving spouse has the knowledge needed to handle the family affairs.
TODAY – November 14 – 1:00 to 3:00 pm – Ventura Parkinson’s Disease Support Group & Camarillo Health Care District will present “Supercharge Your Caregiving” – at Lexington Assisted Living, 5440 Ralston Street in Ventura. For more information call (805) 766-6070.
SUNDAY – November 18 -3:00 to 4:30 pm – History Comes Alive – “SoCal Sisters Swing” – presenting a historical tribute to the Andrew Sisters – at Goebel Adult Community Center, 1385 E. Janss Road in Thousand Oaks. Tickets are $5.00 and available at Goebel’s front desk.
WEDNESDAY – November 29 – 1:00 to 5:00 pm – AARP Smart Driver Refresher Course – at Pleasant Valley Senior Center, 1605 Burnley Street in Camarillo. Registration must be completed by November 21 to reserve a seat. For more information call (805) 482-4881.
Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are located at the Goebel Adult Community Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362 or call (805) 495-6250 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (please include your telephone number.) You are invited to submit questions on senior issues.