Death and Finances: Not Always a Pretty Picture

Death and Finances: Not Always a Pretty Picture

Death and Finances, couple on the beach The phone rang.  I woke up out of a rare siesta and clicked on my cell.

Through the hysteria, I figured out that someone had died.  Unexpectedly.  A close family member.

That started another journey into the life of a woman who would soon be facing her financial reality.  Good or bad, it was one more thing to deal with …

[And for me, a journey back into the family fold, to go help … ]

Over the years she had taken the reins of the family finances because her husband’s career took him overseas regularly on multi-month trips.

But he had been retired for ten years and had taken back the bill paying, insurances, investing and all other numbers-related tasks.

Will this story have a happy ending?  Yes, as happy as can be expected under the circumstances.  (Remember, she’s related to me, Ms. “Financial Control and Peace of Mind.”)

But what is already a difficult time of transition will be burdened by an extra—and unnecessary—stress.

So I ask you:

•    Who handles the bill paying in your household?  If not you, do you at least have a list of all repeat payments, pay due dates and online access URLs and passwords for all accounts?  What about payments that come due infrequently, like taxes and insurances?

•    What is the status of all your insurances?  Health?  Life?  Long-term disability?  Home?  Car?  What carriers are they each with?  What is the payment cycle?  Contact information?

•    If something happens to your life partner, are any critical accounts frozen?  If so, for how long?  And do you always have a financial buffer to be able to wait out any delays?

•    How will your finances be affected by the lost income of your partner?  Will it affect your lifestyle exactly when you’re least prepared to change?  And should you consider bringing your hard-and-fast expenses into line with what you could afford on your own?  Of course this goes for both of you …

The purpose of these questions is not to be morbid.  Or to propose living small.

Once again, my purpose is for you to look at your finances realistically and enjoy the tremendous peace of mind that comes with full knowledge.  Truth is, that’s living large.

Let me know in the Comments section below how prepared you are for one of life’s saddest, yet unavoidable, events.

[RIP, my friend.]


Bio: Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. Yet she did! Since then, with her finances completely turned around, Sharon has gone on to interview countless women. She’s done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers are shared in her tell-it-like-it-is posts and articles. Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve … if they’re willing to do what it takes!

  • Thank you for sharing this post, Sharon. It is so important. I also never thought about it till I lost everything and had to start all over. I hope your post reaches a lot of people as it is extremely helpful.

    • I went through that loss as well, Alexandra, and it’s the driver behind so much of what I do today in trying to get women to take full responsibility for their financial lives … 😉

  • Aimee

    I am single, but my sister has access to all my accounts and is beneficiary. I trust her implicitly and she has helped several others in our family through tying up financial loose ends after death. I am lucky to have someone like her in my life.

    • Yes, you certainly are, Aimee! And the more she knows, the easier it will be for her if she should ever have to play that role. What makes that transparency easy is when we don’t attach judgment to our “numbers” and are willing to let people in …

  • Very important advice here Sharon. Thanks for sharing these great insights.

  • Barbara Billig

    So true – I have known so many women who have not been prepared for not having a spouse – through divorce or death. Thanks for reminding us all to take the time to understand our lives now.

    • I just wish mothers were aware of what a gift they can give to their daughters early on … by instilling in them the right (and responsibility) of being in charge of their own financial lives, no matter what! Especially since it tends to make relationships stronger, not weaker …

  • These are all good points to consider, Sharon. Although I am now divorced, when I was a newlywed I made sure to establish credit in my own name and keep my eyes on the family finances.

    • Glad you have the habit of taking care of yourself, Meryl! Especially in that wonderful newlywed mindset, too many women hand over the financial reins in fear of ruffling feathers …

  • This is so important and the events of the past year showed me just that! Now I need to get my life, business and finances all back in harmony 🙂

    • I hear you, Anita. I know it’s a transitional time for you; be sure to let me know if I can help smooth the way for you …

  • Great info! My Mom did a trust for our family to make it that much easier for us during that difficult time.

    • Trusts certainly simplify the process, Elizabeth. That’s a tremendous “gift” parents can make to their children … or spouse to spouse …

  • Sharon, such valuable advice. Both my spouse and I do our finances together, so that we both know what is going on. I have seen the effects on families who haven’t had that knowledge and it hasn’t been a pretty picture.

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    A friend’s husband just passed away and she was concerned because accounts were frozen for two weeks. Most of the accounts were in her husband’s name, which made things more difficult. I learned a lesson from her experience to make sure I know the status of all of our accounts for the future. Thanks for the reminder.

    • So many people aren’t aware of that, Cathy, which is why I wanted to share all the questions I had to answer in my recent experience.

  • lorrie

    Morbid as it sounds, I think of my death frequently and how it would impact my husband and my children. This is a great article and I will be sharing it with my friends. I think taking time to tend to these issues while we are alive is the most loving thing we can do for those we may end up leaving behind.

  • MamaRed

    Thanks for such a forthright article AND for sharing the RIGHT questions to ask, even if it does seem like morbid topic. I’ve seen firsthand what happens when we ignore this topic. Ugggg.

  • Thanks for a great article… even though it can be difficult for some to face these kinds of questions – it’s really important to remember that death is part of life and awareness of the impact that our death will have before it’s an issue is being respectful and loving to everyone concerned.

  • cathsj

    So much to deal with at once. A friend’s mother lost her husband and had to put her house on the markets within 2 weeks.

  • Two many people do not want to discuss death which leads to the mess… It is a very important thing to discuss and make sure things are in order… Been there, done that LOL…

  • In a strange way I’m happy to say this…Yes I am prepared. Having danced with the devil and all. You’re right the peace of mind is well worth going through the challenging process.

  • One of those matters noone wants to face really but one so very neccessary!

  • Susan Critelli

    Ugh. I have a lot of planning to catch up on. I am not even a little prepared for the inevitable.

  • Something no one likes to discuss but so very important to know. My sister recently did this with my mom to gather all the information. Thanks for these great tips, Sharon.

  • Such an important post, Sharon. I am single and have conducted similar efforts with my daughters who are the beneficiaries of my estate. I agree – it’s not morbid, rather it will help them during a time that is incredibly trying, already.

  • This is such an important topic Sharon. I remember when my mother passed, she handled all the finances in the house, and my father didn’t have a clue what was going on. We spent some few stressful weeks trying to figure everything out.

  • Really important to get in the loop of all the house hold matters!

    • We ought to be able to have a finger on the pulse of everything in our lives. Anything we can’t, we probably out to drop … or delegate. And the simpler we keep things, the better!

  • Barbara Becker

    Great article, Sharon, on a topic most people avoid thinking about. I think it’s a good idea to simplify our life as much as possible, then it’s easier for those left behind to redistribute and put closure to a part of life that we all go through.

    • The older we get, Barbara, the more we’ve had to deal with such redistribution … and the more we swear we won’t do that to others! As you say, simplifying is good!