Ep # 80: Financial Next Steps To Take After Loss Of A Spouse

Benjamin Haas |
  • Importance of taking your time making important decisions (2:37)
  • Small steps to take towards progress (5:59)
  • Care for yourself (7:01)
  • Checklist of now, soon, later things to do (9:55)




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Full Transcript:

Benjamin Haas  00:02

Hi everyone and welcome to A/B Conversations where we will help you CFP your way out of it. A podcast where you get into the minds of a couple of Certified Financial Planners on how we think and feel about everyday financial planning questions and what should really matter most to you. A healthier financial life starts...now!


Adam Werner  00:25

Hey Ben, funny seeing you here.


Benjamin Haas  00:31

It is A/B Conversations. I am your sidekick.  Am I not? That should not be funny seeing me here.


Adam Werner  00:36

I think we're co-hosts. I would not identify either one of us as sidekicks.


Benjamin Haas  00:42

Well, you can steal the show today, pressures on you.


Adam Werner  00:45

Great, and what a fun show it's going to be. It's not exactly the most upbeat and lively conversation. The topic today is kind of what to do or the financial next steps after losing a loved one, more specifically losing a spouse. The reason we're doing this topic today is we've seen this more than we would like recently in our business. Definitely leads to the more emotional side of what we do. So, trying to help somebody navigate what is usually a very difficult emotional time and knowing that the financial stuff that needs to happen doesn't just go away. That's kind of where we insert ourselves into the process to try to help navigate that.


Benjamin Haas  01:40

I think the main takeaway of course, this is an incredibly sensitive thing, no two situations are alike. But it is to just acknowledge the amount of emotion, anxiety; a lot of people are grief numb during this time period. It is to say, not only do we hope to support our clients in that or help people find people that can support them, but to acknowledge that this does not need to be financial triage. We talk about this in a way that says there are things that, yes need to happen now, but there are a lot of things that we can allow time to help with. I think, other than giving a couple of pieces of general advice on the front end and maybe I'll let you kind of kickstart that. It is to kind of talk about this and what needs to happen now. What can be soon, but then here's the stuff that will help you through at a much later and hopefully a little bit of a calmer time.


Adam Werner  02:37

I think in my experience it’s how people react to that and maybe you already said this, it runs the gamut from - let's do everything all at once right away. Let's get this done. I want this behind me, I'm not in the space for this, I don't want to do anything like I'm going to put this off and deal with the financial aspect, all of them later. And I think in our experience, neither one of those is probably ideal, it's probably somewhere in the middle. So yeah, the number one piece of general advice is don't rush. As you said, there are things that do need to happen administratively on the front end and that can happen in the first several weeks. But it is a major life change. There will be ramifications felt later, but don't rush into any big life changing decisions with your money, the house, anything like that that feels that you can't undo it. So, I think that's probably the most important piece of advice because here's the other thing we experience. This is a time where family and friends alike really want to be supportive and maybe you have somebody that's gone through it before. You might have a lot of people in your ear and they may mean well. I say all that to assume that they mean well. But it really is a time where you know being more specific and those first two weeks, he said what do you need to take care of administratively. Yeah, we can. That's organization time, we need to gather some documents. You need to find the will, hopefully that was done, statement of accounts, you're getting death certificates. You're putting yourself in a spot where you can kind of take stock of what is going to be part of your new financial situation. But your point, well said, give yourself some time prior to making any major life decisions regarding work, your home, your money.  Well, and I'll say it again, in our experience, the majority of the times it is older individuals that are coming to us and statistics do show it's usually the male that passes first and historically speaking, we've been in a society where more often than not, the male is kind of responsible for a lot of the finances. We've seen widows come to us with, I don't know how to do some of this stuff. He handled everything. I don't even know what we own, where it's held, any of that stuff. So, part of our role in that process is to simply you said, take stock, but really is to come up with that checklist of here's what needs to happen. We can help walk through that process but I think the most important part of that is to break it down into those more digestible pieces where it doesn't feel as overwhelming, even though I'll say I think it probably feels overwhelming no matter what. But to be able to, hopefully, break it down into much smaller pieces that you can just feel like you're making progress, rather than all of this stuff needing to happen all at once.


Benjamin Haas  05:59

Yeah, it's almost like the micro actions. It's putting one step, two step. Third step. It's just little steps forward that you can take and I think this is true of any financial situation but especially at a time of high emotions like this. Where it does, like you said, feel overwhelming. It's just to feel organized so you know what that next step is and if you have a trusted advisor like us, hopefully, we can dictate this is that micro action that needs to be taken next. And again, the first week or two, it really is just about organization.


Adam Werner  06:34

Right. Yep. So then, yeah, go ahead.


Benjamin Haas  06:37

Well, the last thing I would say is, again, depending on how you feel about things, we would encourage people as they have a bunch of people in their ear to just say, yes, thank you. That may be an interesting idea or you know, I'm going to look into that but I'm not ready to make any big decisions. It's important to kind of advocate for yourself and just let yourself breathe and go at the pace that you feel comfortable going at.


Adam Werner  07:01

Yeah, so on that note, I'll build off of that. Our industry in general, the financial services world, has historically been predicated on sales, product placement, and things like that. So, we live in the advice world, right, we don't necessarily have a product to push other than our own service and advice. But if you had something at the bank or there was life insurance, or there's an annuity company, or there's some sort of other investment company in the picture, they have a vested interest in putting this person into something new and it may or may not be the best thing for them. So, I don't want to say, go in with a maybe a skeptical kind of viewpoint but part of, we call it the ABCs. Ask questions, be a little wary. Buyers beware, it should be care. Take care of yourself through this process. Not only you know, emotionally, mentally, physically, but the financial side of things, too.


Benjamin Haas  08:11

So, I'm glad you went that direction because I would put that in the middle camp here of things that you have to do soon after but not immediately after a passing. That's going to be once you have organization, what things now need to move into your name. Like you said, now I may be claiming a life insurance. I'm moving these financial accounts. This is where you're going to start to interact with other professionals. You're going to have to make a lot of phone calls and that's why it's okay for that to be soon because that's going to be reliving emotionally, what you have to share with these institutions that somebody's no longer with us. But that whole middle section is really about getting the financial life in order for you and you do have to be, like you said, careful about that or have an advocate for you with you through that process.


Adam Werner  08:58

Yeah, as I said, it's the checklist of things to go through that maybe they're not often overlooked. But it's something as simple as if they were receiving Social Security, there's going to be a process to make sure that now that depending on your own benefit, that may be something you have to go through and receive that higher benefit. It's the continuity in my head, just of ongoing cash flow and expenses. Those things don't stop. I should say the expenses don't stop but once you notify these other institutions on the passing, that income may stop. Whether that's Social Security, whether it's pension, maybe you were taking investment income from your savings. There are those administrative steps that need to occur to make sure that just the ongoing day to day continues as it did or at least puts you in a position where that's not another problem now to deal with.


Benjamin Haas  09:55

Yeah, and I almost, we break it down: now, soon, later. And maybe that would be better said: get organized, then it's literally the logistics. Where's that now coming from? What expenses are now going out? Everything needs to be in one name now, not two. It's getting that all organized logistically to be happening, those mechanisms moving again. It's that last part where we're going to try to be thoughtful on - now what does this mean? What are your wishes now? Does anything really need to change? And from that standpoint this is where again I say, give yourself some time. It's okay to test drive ideas and advice. The most important thing is to not continue to feel vulnerable but to feel safe and secure in a new situation. And part of that may just be - time.


Adam Werner  10:49

Yeah, and we've seen that just over time, those what started out and let me take a step back. Depending how things were set up, you know, for the couple, here's how we were approaching things. Here was our plan moving forward. When it is maybe just one individual, that plan may still fit but it may not. What we've seen is that sometimes those plans or here's what I would want to see happen as the surviving spouse that completely can adapt and change and be a moving target in the future too. So, to your point, not making any irrevocable decisions or at least just giving yourself that space and time to kind of test drive some different things, whether it's lifestyle or who knows what.


Benjamin Haas  11:41



Adam Werner  11:42

Just that ongoing assessment, that does not need to happen in short order. I think that is much longer term, that's a bigger picture stuff and that's certainly where we can, again, play that role of just exploring what's possible. Making sure that they are going to be taken care of for the rest of their life and then if there are changes or adaptations that need to occur, we can help think through those options or what's possible.


Benjamin Haas  12:10

Yeah, I'm thinking, housing, travel. Now I want to relocate closer to family. I think of, God bless Pat, number of times, I think about her but she moved closer to family and always felt like she made that decision too soon. That she may have wanted to stay in the community that she was in and she's kind of a poster child for me of, you know, this is what I thought I wanted but then I wasn't sure. So, again, it's okay. It's okay to kind of slow down and reassess who you are now, today, may be very different than the way that you're going to feel three months, six months, 12 months from now.


Adam Werner  12:50

Yeah, and in that sense, our planning process is no different. Whether it is a younger couple or it is someone approaching retirement or in this situation, someone who lost a spouse. The point in our minds of having the plan is that you do have at least that general roadmap. But knowing that life is going to change, life is going to throw us curveballs and that you have, hopefully somebody like us to help reassess at those inflection points. At those forks in the road to make sure that the path you go down still fits the underlying values of what's important to you at that point in time.


Benjamin Haas  13:26

Yeah, and how to get there. I mean, how many situations that we've been in where, let's get into the nuts and bolts. Husband and wife may have felt very differently about risk.


Adam Werner  13:39



Benjamin Haas  13:39

All the way down to investment styles.


Adam Werner  13:42

Yeah, good point. 


Benjamin Haas  13:44

I mean, the other situation I think we see that we would just want to present on the front end is really make sure that you are or have taken stock on what you need in your life. I think it is a time where we see the potential for somebody to want to be a purse for others. To now be givers as they kind of go through this solo journey. I would just say at least, on the very front end, before you get into that mode, make sure that you truly are going to be okay for yourself before you start giving things away.  I hope this was helpful. I mean, it's such a heavy topic and of course, one that it's going to be very different situation to situation. I mean, do you have any final or summary thoughts that you want to share?


Adam Werner  14:37

No, just other than what we've said already to this point. We're here. We can be a resource. We've, for better or for worse, we've been down this road before with many different clients of ours. So even though it may be a very emotional time, maybe the first time you're dealing with it. We've gone through it from our perspective and help navigate the process. So, if anybody out there is in that spot or knows somebody who is, we're here to help. Keep us in mind.


Benjamin Haas  15:15

Thank you. Well said. Have a great rest of your day, Adam. Appreciate your advice on this very important topic.


Adam Werner  15:23

All right, thank you.


Benjamin Haas  15:45

Hey everyone, Adam and I really appreciate you tuning in. Please note that the opinions we voiced in the show are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific recommendations for any individual. To determine which strategies or investments may be most appropriate for you. Consult with your attorney, your accountant and financial advisor or tax advisor prior to making any decisions or investing. Thanks for listening! Investment advice offered through Great Valley Advisor Group, a Registered Investment Advisor.


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