Published Sunday, November 27, 2011 at: 7:00 AM EST
Barbara Weinglass is still in shock. Three months ago, her husband, Marty, unexpectedly passed away at age 67. Marty had been retired for less than two years and the couple was finally getting to do some of things they’d long dreamed about, including traveling and spoiling the grandchildren. To complicate matters, Marty had always handled all of the couple’s financial affairs. Now Barbara, 65 years old, is left to pick up the pieces on her own. Her two children are doing what they can, but they live far away and have their own lives to lead.
It’s a common scenario, so at least Barbara has some company. And she can begin to move into the next phase of her life by taking these five sensible steps.
1. Meet with a financial advisor. The initial meeting should be a “get to know you” session. If possible, encourage adult children to attend. You may need to discuss some immediate problems—is there enough to keep paying the mortgage?—as well as the emotional support you may need. At this point, it’s crucial to make sure bills are paid on time—a necessity often neglected in the aftermath of a sudden death.
2. Avoid any knee-jerk reactions. While a spouse may not be able to postpone all decisions during a time of grief, acting too quickly on important matters could be worse than doing nothing at all. For instance, deciding to put a home up for sale, give extra-generous gifts to other family members, or buy or sell large investments all might be moves you’ll regret later. Take a deep breath and assess your options.
3. Review the financial landscape. Do an accounting of assets, liabilities, sources of income, and living expenses. Collect all of your financial statements and begin to develop a long-range plan that sets some concrete financial goals. Of course, the financial advisor can be instrumental in this process.
4. Coordinate with professionals. Bring your attorney, accountant, and other professional advisors into the loop. The financial advisor can serve as the quarterback, but the best results are usually achieved through teamwork. Make sure financial and other plans are synchronized so everyone is pulling in the same direction.
5. Follow up with additional meetings. You should expect to meet several times with the financial advisor. Future sessions may focus on retirement needs, the allocation of investment assets, and changing needs for cash.
Finally, be aware that while well-intentioned friends may offer advice, you should rely on the professionals to see you through the ordeal.
This article was written by a professional financial journalist for McCarthy Asset Management, Inc and is not intended as legal or investment advice.