Planning for the Unexpected

In one of my financial groups on Facebook, this past week a woman told a sad, but familiar tale. Her husband just passed away unexpectedly, leaving her a widow with four young children.

In addition to the personal tragedy, she had left the financial planning to her husband. She was basically starting from scratch, and asking for advice.

It is unfortunately a common practice that one spouse remains largely in the dark while the other manages the finances. Many people are not interested in financial matters, but those are a fact of life. You need to understand them, because they may suddenly be thrust upon you with little notice.

The first piece of advice I can give is to get engaged in the financial discussions in your household. Understand where the money is coming from, where it’s going, where all of the accounts are, and discuss the plan for the future. Approach the difficult topics like the potential death of a spouse. What would you do? Is your current plan preparing you financially for that possibility?

If not, then you really need to think about life insurance. I realized early in my career that if I suddenly died, all the hopes and dreams I had for my children could go up in smoke. So, I took out a life insurance policy on myself, to ensure money was there to raise my children and put them through college. Over time, you should work on building wealth so the life insurance policy is no longer needed.

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But that plan — life insurance initially while you build wealth — is one that can be implemented immediately to give financial security to your family. You don’t have to keep your fingers crossed for years, hoping that nothing bad will happen. I always say you shouldn’t take risks you can’t afford to lose. Gambling on your family’s future while hoping nothing happens to a critical breadwinner isn’t the strategy I would advise.

Those are some things you can do to plan, but what if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation described by the woman in the opening paragraph? This is definitely not a good situation, but there are some resources that can help.

First, you need to contact the spouse’s employer just to ensure that there was no life insurance on the spouse. Some companies pay for basic life insurance, and then the employee has the option of increasing that amount.

Second, you need to contact the Social Security Administration. Social Security survivors benefits are paid to spouses and dependents of eligible workers who have died. This benefit can be a lifeline for families with children.

The best course of action is to immediately sit down with your partner and talk about these difficult topics. This isn’t something you should delay. Unexpected events impact our lives all the time, and one thing we shouldn’t have to worry about in these cases is finances.

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