Preparing for an Unexpected Death

Sep 15, 2020 | Blog

By Terry Sawchuk

I know, no one wants to think about it. But now more than ever Americans are being forced to consider the possibility of experiencing an unexpected death. If you’re like most people, up until now, you probably haven’t spent much time thinking about your future death. Although thinking about your death or that of a loved one likely brings up plenty of unpleasant emotions, having a plan to take care of the details can ease some of the stress in a time of grief.

Did you know that psychological studies have shown that grief profoundly impacts our decision-making skills? (1) It’s true—and not for the better. Making decisions and setting a plan in place now will ease some of the stress for your family and prevent them from making poor or rushed choices when they are in a time of shock or grief. If you’re ready to create a plan for the future, the following checklist will help you deal with the financial side of an unexpected death.

Create a Will

Are you one of the 64% of Americans who doesn’t have a will? (2) Your will outlines what happens with your property and dictates guardianship of your children. It also names your executor, who will carry out your wishes. You don’t want to leave these decisions to the state, which is what will happen if you don’t have a will. Make sure your spouse or other family members know how to access your will when the time comes, and remember to review it regularly to ensure it is up to date.

Organize Legal Documents

Do you have an organized filing system, or are all your important documents strewn about in different places? Make sure your spouse or children have access to the following documents, which they will need to handle any legal details after you die:

    • Birth certificate
    • Death certificate
    • Marriage certificate
    • Social Security card
    • Automobile titles
    • Property deeds
    • Insurance policies
    • Bank, investment, and retirement account statements

Review Benefits

Surviving family members may be entitled to certain benefits, such as Social Security and/or pension benefits, life insurance, and annuities. List out all the details pertaining to each benefit and communicate these to your family. Be sure to include the following: 

    • Life insurance 
    • Social Security
    • Annuities
    • Healthcare, or extended healthcare coverage through COBRA
    • Compensation due, such as stock options or unused vacation pay
    • 401(k) or pension 

Communicate Account Details

Finances can get messy when someone dies. You don’t want your family scrambling for money or unable to access account information. They will have enough stress to deal with already, so save them the trouble by making a list of all your financial accounts, including the name of the bank/institution, account number, type of account, name on the account, and contact information.

  • Checking account
  • Savings Account
  • Brokerage account
  • IRA
  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Health savings account
  • Flexible spending account
  • College funds

Don’t forget about debts. Your debts won’t go away just because you do. Your spouse will be responsible for taking over your debts, so do your best to prevent missed payments that could damage credit and cause undue stress. For every debt, communicate the creditor’s name, outstanding balance, name on the debt, loan terms, and the amount, timing, and method of payments.

  • Mortgage
  • Home equity line of credit
  • Automobile loans
  • Personal loans
  • Student loans
  • Credit cards

Make sure your spouse is familiar with recurring household expenses, such as utilities, and how and when to pay them. 

  • Property taxes
  • Electricity
  • Sewer
  • Water
  • Natural gas
  • Garbage
  • Telephone
  • Cable TV
  • Internet service
  • Landscaping
  • House cleaning
  • Homeowners association dues
  • Other organization membership dues

Finally, provide contact information for your financial advisor, insurance agent, attorney, and accountant. These professionals are trained to know how to handle an unexpected death, and they will be able to direct your loved ones to the right sources of information and help them make the best decisions possible. 

Update Insurance

When was the last time you reviewed your insurance policies? You most likely purchased insurance to protect those you love, so do your due diligence and verify that the various policies are current and beneficiary information is correct. 

In addition to the life insurance payout that your family will receive, have all the details for your other policies in an easy-to-find spot. Your spouse will need to contact the companies to cancel or update the policies. This includes medical, dental, auto, long-term care, and homeowners, to name a few. 

Build a Budget

An important part of developing a plan for your spouse to move forward alone will involve communicating your current spending needs.  If you don’t already have a written budget, begin tracking your expenses and create one. It will be an incredible aid when planning for the future.

Work With a Trusted Advisor

Having a support system with expertise in these areas will make your planning process simpler. Take the time now to build a relationship with an advisor and make sure your spouse and family members are involved so that if the unexpected happens, they have someone they can trust to help them handle matters. Financial professionals are experienced with these situations and can guide you through the steps that apply to your unique circumstances. They will not only help you take care of pressing problems and concerns, but can also help you feel more secure in a time of financial change.  A financial advisor can make sure your affairs are in order, update your financial plan, and implement appropriate strategies to help you stay on track financially. 

How I Can Help

I know you’ve got a lot of things on your plate right now (to put it mildly), but I believe it is worth your time to prepare for an unexpected death before it happens. And remember that you don’t need to make these difficult decisions on your own. We at Sawchuk Wealth are here to guide you through the process. To learn more about how we can help you prepare, no matter what financial situation you find yourself in, schedule a call online here or call 248-269-9700. I look forward to hearing from you.

About Terry

Terry Sawchuk is the founder, chairman, and financial consultant at Sawchuk Wealth, a comprehensive wealth management firm that is devoted to helping successful families and businesses live their best financial life. With over 30 years of industry experience, Terry spends his days helping clients pursue their financial and lifestyle goals, work toward a work-optional lifestyle, and navigate through the critical financial events of their lives. Terry’s business philosophy remains the same as it has been from the beginning: to build long-term relationships based on trust. Terry holds the NSSA (National Social Security Association) certification, as well as his Series 6, 7, 24, 63, and 65 securities registrations. In the Metro-Detroit area, Terry Sawchuk is a well-recognized name, as he was a prominent personality on radio and TV as the host of Wealth Strategies on WJR for many years, as well as a co-host of Real Estate and Business Insiders on the local ABC affiliate. Terry is a staunch advocate of the mind–body connection and is passionate about regular exercise and healthy eating. In his spare time, Terry is an avid golfer and a big University of Michigan fan. In Terry’s mind, the best thing he can do with his time is to spend it with his beautiful wife, Amy, and their five children. To learn more about Terry, connect with him on LinkedIn.

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(1) http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/heartache-and-less-rational-decision-making-after-parents-death

(2) https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2015/07/11/estate-plan-will/71270548/