Losing a loved one is one of life’s most traumatic events, and nothing makes mourning more overwhelming than being thrust into making financial decisions. There are things that will demand your immediate attention, like funeral arrangements and costs (if not already pre-planned). Many other decisions can wait for weeks or even months, but some administrative wheels, such as those of insurance companies, investment firms, and creditors, begin turning right away.
Whether you are the executor or trustee of someone’s estate, a surviving spouse, or a family member, you will be faced with gathering a long list of documents; contacting banks, insurance companies, and other organizations; and making decisions. There are a number of things you can do to prepare yourself for the choices that lie ahead.
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1) Educate yourself on financial concepts
You are likely to come across language and terminology that you are not familiar with, or you’ll encounter terms you have heard before but you’re not entirely sure what they mean — estate, trust, and probate, to name a few. There are tons of online resources to help guide you through the unknown, and checklists that can help walk you through your specific situation. In addition, you should engage a team of professionals to help you understand the vocabulary and concepts of personal finance.
2) Surround yourself with the right people
Before making any major decisions, assemble a team of trusted professionals to help with planning and paperwork. Obviously, you want to find people who will put your best interests first. If your loved one or spouse didn’t already work with an attorney, accountant, and financial planner, you will quickly find that their specific experience and resources are invaluable.
Some of the most experienced and knowledgeable financial planners will have their Certified Financial Planner or CFP® designation, and will work closely with your CPA and attorney on any planning that needs to occur. CFP® professionals are held to a fiduciary standard to put your best interests first.
What can each of these professionals do for you?
Tax professional (often a CPA)
- Complete and file tax returns (individual, joint, and estate tax)
- Develop tax strategies (filing status, tax bracket, and other changes resulting from the death)
- Create or dissolve trusts
- Represent you in will probate proceedings
- Represent your interests in disputes and settlements
Financial planner (CFP®)
- Coordinate legal and tax issues
- Advise on Social Security strategies
- Assist with notifications to financial institutions, insurance companies, brokerages, and others
- Manage investments and insurance proceeds
Even the simplest estate will have many moving pieces that will require the attention of people with resources and experience that you may not have. Unfortunately there are many professionals looking to take advantage of those who are undereducated on financial matters or emotionally vulnerable. Ask your close friends and family for referrals.
3) Keep looking to the future
No matter your age or health, there are people who are counting on you. It’s okay to grieve and be vulnerable, but you need to continue looking to your future. Don’t jump into any decisions that could alter yours or someone else’s retirement plans, cause financial hardship, or have negative tax implications. Give your emotions time to settle before you make any big financial decisions.
At the end of the day, your peace of mind and health should be your top priority. Once you are ready to take the next steps, you will have successfully surrounded yourself with the right people to propel you forward into living the rest of your life.
How we can help
Like many things in life, the death of someone you love is an opportunity to learn. Think about what you might do to make sure your affairs are in order so those who come after can avoid the financial challenges that you have encountered. CLA wealth advisory and tax professionals help people in all stages of life manage difficult financial decisions. Our experienced professionals will take the time to know you and help preserve a personal and financial legacy.