February is the month of romance – a time when we reflect on those who make our lives sweeter just by being there. Words that are seldom spoken may be written in cards or communicated through gifts. However, as a financial professional, I notice that too often innermost thoughts and feelings aren’t expressed until after tragedy occurs – when it’s probably too late.
If only people would realize that basic actions taken now speak volumes later. Though few would care to think about death, there are some simple tasks that may help ease the aftermath.
Update beneficiaries. Make sure they are accurate in terms of name and relationship, and double-check that a second piece of information is included about each, such as birthday or social security number. Beneficiaries should be designated for all retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance policies (those you own and ones held by your employer as part of a group certificate). Preferably denote first and second beneficiaries, which are referred to as primary and contingent beneficiaries. Bank accounts like checking, savings, and Cds do not have beneficiaries, but rather a transfer on death order. Request that this be added to your account since your representative may not think to ask you. Also note that if your account is held jointly with someone else, he or she becomes the owner of the account upon your death.
Get rid of outdated paperwork. Shred old life insurance, annuities contracts, loan documents, and closed credit accounts that are no longer effective, keeping only records that still apply. Purge unnecessary statements, close inactive accounts, and destroy old wills that have been replaced. This type of ongoing maintenance may one day save your loved ones time and confusion.
Create and maintain a list of automatic deductions you have authorized, including the amount, date, and payee.
Keep copies of your driver’s license and social security card in a location that is easily accessible.
Create and maintain a list of your user Ids and passwords related to financial accounts. Share them with someone you trust or secure them with your important documents.
Resist adding your name to balancedue accounts on behalf of someone who becomes ill. Though this action allows you to speak with the vendor on behalf of the person, it also may make you liable for any balance due should death occur.
Postpone making permanent decisions after a loved one dies until after the fog clears. Emotional recovery time varies, and important decisions made too quickly can have lasting impact. You do not need to do everything all at once. Be open to help and guidance from people you trust.
Don’t feel rushed to notify all agencies and vendors immediately following someone’s death. Many notifications, such as the mortgage company, can wait for a reasonable period of time.
Don’t give information freely over the phone if someone calls and asks. Unfortunately, callers with bad intentions may attempt to victimize survivors when their guard is down.
These preparations and responses can help ease arrangements following death. As a byproduct, words seldom said now will have been demonstrated sincerely through your actions.