Sadly, death is a part of life. It’s a time of emotional chaos. When faced with the aftermath of tragedy, most of us find ourselves ill prepared. I’ve coached many through this unfortunate period. I’ve even had to deal with this in my own family. If this post can help just one person handle the tragedy of death, I’ll consider it a success. So, what do we need to cover to cope with the fallout of losing a loved one?
Get a support system. This will present itself in a few ways:
- Friends that will be there for you all hours of the day or night.
- Family that knows your pain and can relate on a similar level.
- Someone who can guide you through any religious or spiritual aspects.
- Gather your professional team, such as an accountant, attorney, and financial planner. (Make sure you really trust and like these people; you are about to lean on them in ways you’ve never imagined.)
Take everything slow. Don’t rush. Don’t worry about the days (and weeks) to come. Things will fall into place. There will be help. The time needed to address everything will work out. Remember, patience is a virtue. Your natural instincts are to rush to make major life changes. You may want to sell your home or move away. While those may be prudent choices, wait until you have a clear head to make a truly informed decision. Wait one year until any major life changes. This first year should be about healing.
Write everything down. Information will bombard you from every direction. Anyone dealing with this pain isn’t functioning at full capacity; you won’t retain all this data. Keep a notebook (or a phone with a note app) with you at all times. Write down everything as you’ll want these records as you go through this process. When ready, make sure your records are in order enough to hand off to one of your trusted professionals.
Get a census. Now it’s time to start taking a tally of everything your spouse owned and how it’s titled. You’ll need to know about life insurance, property, retirement plans, investment accounts, cash accounts, and other assets of real value. This will all be important as you get to the next step.
Put everyone on notice. It’s imperative to contact all relevant people and entities to inform about the recent passing. You’ll need to communicate to: employers, attorneys, accountants, financial planners, insurance companies, investment companies, insurance brokers, Social Security, and more. Each of these entities will require different things to ensure an easy transition. Additionally, there will also be benefits to which you are entitled.
Get multiple copies of the death certificate. You’ll need these copies as you start reaching out to everyone. Get at least 15-20 copies. Your funeral director can usually help facilitate acquiring them. There may be a nominal cost; however, you’ll find the extra copies worth the time and money.
Get those legal documents. Remember those wills and estate planning documents you did years ago? Now it is time to dust them off and recall the wishes of the deceased. You’ll also have to submit a claim through the states and probate court to settle the estate. This is typically a costly and arduous process. Be prepared; on average a small estate still takes about 9 months to settle. Be patient; you’ll need it! A professional’s help will also ease some of that burden, although come with a cost.
Update and change records. As with putting everyone on notice, there are many places to update. Everything from utilities to vehicle registration. Again, make a list of EVERYTHING you/they have. Be as comprehensive as possible. If you weren’t the one handling these kinds of things, get credit card bills and bank records. This will help you see who and when you paid. Add them to your list, take a few days, and then start dialing away. It was therapeutic for me to notify places and check them off my list when my father passed.
Cancel things! Once you start contacting places, you’ll recognize the need to cancel. From your list there will be automatic withdrawals, membership payments, and plenty more. The last thing you want is to send money somewhere where it’s no longer needed. It’s much easier than trying to explain your situation when asking for it back.
Lastly, focus on yourself. I recognize it’s hard to do, especially if you are living through this right now. But, it is true; now is the time to handle your finances. Update your information to represent the new normal for you. Work with someone to figure out the new possibilities. Take it one day at a time. Handling your financial health is important, but you also need to focus on your physical and mental health. It’s all interconnected. Ignoring these tasks will only make things more difficult. Plus, I’m certain it isn’t what your loved ones would have wanted. Again, I do hope this article can help as many people as possible. Although only briefly touching on many different aspects, feel free to request a download of the full widow checklist here: Widow Checklist. I encourage you to share this post with others that may find in helpful. I’ll leave you with a quote and thought that helped me through some dark times from one of the greats. As Paul McCartney said, “The love you make is equal to the love you take.” Let’s all be thankful for the enrichment we’ve had by these people (instead of focusing on the void now left). Keep them in your heart, and smile when remembering them.