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Widow - Case Study

Once again I am saddened that aggravation and frustration could have been avoided if only the wife had been engaged in her household’s finances while her husband was still alive.

I recently attended an event where while chatting with several colleagues, I learned that a friend of a colleague had recently lost her husband. This savvy business owner proceeded to share with the group the trials and tribulations her friend has endured since this tragic loss took place, ranging from challenges such as being denied access to the bank account to trying to figure out who was the attorney who handled her husband’s will.

Needless to say, the stress and exhaustive search for answers could have easily been reduced if not avoided had she, the wife, heeded her husband’s apparent requests to engage in the finances of the household with him.

So what could she have done?

For starters, she should have been involved in paying bills, joining him at meetings with the accountant, financial adviser and attorney, all the while learning how to navigate (or at least becoming familiar with) all their accounts, either online or on paper.


Together, she and her husband would create a list of assets including:

Asset type and asset title (registration), account number, who owns the asset, where is it being held, phone number if applicable, and any other description that would properly identify the asset.

Process the same action with all the household’s liabilities (i.e., mortgage, car payments, etc.).

Again, as many details as possible should be listed and reviewed to make sure that either party could access the information and handle as needed.

Do any of the accounts (i.e., IRA's, life insurance) have beneficiaries? If yes,

Who are the beneficiaries named and is all the information current? For example, has a child gotten divorced? Or, has a child or grandchild gotten married involving a name change?

Make sure that all information in all accounts is current and agreed on by both spouses.

**If using a computer, create a list of passwords and links to all sites used to process payments, access bank accounts and any other financial sites used. Keep the passwords in a very safe place that both spouses can access**

I would strongly encourage the widow to make an appointment to meet face to face with her husband's team of advisers as soon as possible so that she would know who handles what. (She or you may not like or approve of them, but that’s a conversation for another time). More than likely she will need them and it's best that they not be strangers.

There are additional actions that should be taken but I know, as I have seen this all too many times, if you as a couple can get though these five suggestions – hallelujah!! You’d be miles ahead of many households. Usually this is when judgments, criticism and who knows what else creep into the conversation and process. I always say at that moment, STOP, adjust the tone, focus and move on.

No matter how boring, frustrating or simply complicated this may seem, you are so much better off getting involved in the finances when you can work at it as a team rather than trying to deal with it on your own.

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