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In the Event of my untimely passing…a to-do list

By Sam Akerson and Diannek

 
Make a list and check it twice


Editor’s note:
Recently I’ve attended way too many funerals and memorial services. This brings up the nasty question: are we ever prepared for this event? Often, if the end comes suddenly, the surviving spouse is in for a great deal of anguish, both emotional and financial as well. So when Timmie told me her husband had prepared a to-do list for her in the event “something happened” to him, I asked to see it. Sam Akerson is recovering from a heart attack, which is what gave him the incentive to a to-do list for his wife, Timmie. I hope she won’t have any need for it in the near future.

In the event...things to do first:

Contact the family members (and if the spouse is employed, notify the employer).

Contact the funeral home – you’ll need spouse’s personal information, such as date of birth, social security number, and lots of details for the death certificate. You’ll also be asked to provide information for the newspaper obituary (which can be submitted to the newspaper only by the funeral home.)

Prepare for the memorial or funeral service. The family and funeral home will help you with this. Ask a few friends or family members if they would prepare a eulogy for the service. Friends are more likely to say a few kind words if they have a little time beforehand to think about it.

(The will: in most cases, the estate goes to the surviving spouse. The will becomes much more important when the surviving spouse dies.)

Things to do next:

Social Security – the funeral home usually takes care of notifying them about the death and will apply for the death benefit (and apply it towards the cost of their services). They should also have information on survivor benefits and will help you getting started with this procedure.

Obtain at least 12 copies of the death certificate. You will need these in order to collect on insurance policies, change ownership titles to house, car, bank accounts, credit cards, stock and bond portfolios, loans and so forth. It is possible to take care of these matters personally, but if you need assistance, consider contacting an attorney and/or a tax consultant.

Beforehand, both spouses should know everything about their family income and expenses. This should include knowledge of:

-The checking account, and how to pay the monthly bills. Where the receipts are kept for tax purposes. And where the tax returns are stored.

-The family income and asset sources, including all retirement income, IRAs, Social Security income, stock and bond portfolios, rental property, whatever there is should be conveniently assessable (and understandable) to both spouses. Both spouses should have a rough idea of their total assets and net worth.

-All loans, mortgages, debts of all kinds, including when and how to make the payments. Both spouses should also have a rough idea of outstanding balances of all debt.

-Any unusual situations that might be difficult for the surviving spouse to handle, such as business relationships, outstanding personal loans or debts that may be owed by others, or any unusual income tax issues that may be in process.

-Where all the “important papers” are kept, how they are filed, how to get into the safe deposit box, open the safe, and unlock passwords for internet accounts, where the hidden stashes are located.

-Both spouses should have knowledge of the other’s “last wishes” which would include whether they wish to be buried or cremated; any special funeral or memorial service requests; if any personal items are to be “willed” to specific family members; and special requests about pets, charities, friends, family members or any other usual loose ends that could be taken care of.

-By the way, according to Sam, funeral homes are now by law required to quote their prices over the phone. Sam says prices vary a great deal from place to place, so it doesn't hurt to shop around beforehand. If you wait until the event itself, you are apt to make an emotional decision rather than a sound financial decision. 

Finally, the more both spouses know about these details, the easier it will be for the surviving spouse to get through this trying time of life. Statistically, it is the wives who survive and oftentimes they have a difficult time getting through the financial maze. One of the ways to “finish well” is to take care of this part of life.


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