Financial records and “continuity planning”

Most businesses have established (or at least should have) business continuity plans for ensuring the business can continue operating in the event of a localized or general emergency. This is the case with households, too. Emergency evacuation plans and 72-hour (bug-out) kits are essential. But there is another emergency that is far more likely yet far less often planned against: the death of a spouse.

A recent article on Yahoo! Finance brings this home:

A case in point for not making big decisions soon after a spouse’s death is Maureen Saunders. The financial chores following the death of her husband, Hubert, from pancreatic cancer in 2006 at age 65 were crushing enough. Although Saunders, now 58, balanced the checkbook, her husband was the main financial decision-maker, especially when it came to investments. His death left her “in uncharted waters, not only emotionally and spiritually but also financially.”

Saunders had to wrangle with the life insurance company, which didn’t believe she was her husband’s beneficiary. She had a “total meltdown” in the bank when she discovered, after bouncing some checks, that the Social Security Administration had rescinded Hubert’s latest direct-deposit benefit payment. She proved that her husband died after the deadline to be eligible for that month’s payment, but it took weeks for the government to return the money. She did not realize that she would not be eligible for a survivor benefit until she turned 60. “You’re so vulnerable and raw, and there is always another form to fill out,” says Saunders, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

This is an area I can certainly do better on, even though I’ve discussed it before. But our recentĀ mortgage application, relocation,Ā and trying to find stuff after the move has reminded me that there is a great deal of financial information my wife would not know how to find if something were to happen to me. I need to get everything organized, document where to find everything, and then sit down with her and go through it.

On the bright side, we did find out that our efforts to establish credit in my wife’s name have paid off. She’s from another country, having moved here as an adult, and as such did not have a credit history. We started working on that, and during the mortgage application process we found out we were not only successful in establishing credit, her credit score is higher than mine!

Getting organized, however, is essential. Probably the best place to start would be to get her acquainted with the regular bill-paying, and then move toward the bigger, long-term items. We have time, of course, but then everyone does–right up until they don’t.


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