Typically I don't write articles with the intent to post them the next day, but this topic felt so important to me that I had to sit down and start writing. I was scrolling through Twitter, and an article popped up on my feed called: Widows With Wealth: Managing Money After Losing a Spouse.
At first, I didn't think much of it because I clearly wasn't the target demographic for that post. But for whatever reason, I clicked through and read the whole thing. It's actually a pretty good read and is focused on what a widow should do immediately after their spouse dies.
But then it got me thinking – I bet most of my readers wouldn't know what to do in that situation and aren't really prepared for something massive to happen in their lives like that. I know I'm not.
Rather than focusing on what you need to do after someone dies, I want to talk about what you and your spouse need to do right freaking now
A lot of you know – my wife and I went through the unfortunate process of losing her father a little over a year ago. I'm not going to rehash it completely here because quite honestly I don't like talking about it too much.
It actually completely pisses me off that the most popular post I've ever written on the site with over 13,000 shares is the one I wrote right after he died, because I would trade that stupid post for my wife having her father back any day of the week.
It's also a horrific reminder of the way that my wife cried when we found out that her dad passed away. I had never heard anything with so much pain in my entire life, and I still remember exactly what it sounded like when I was sitting there next to her completely helpless.
You don't forget that sound.
But after he was gone, it got so much more complicated. My mother-in-law was shell-shocked for a while, and then very quickly the financial dread came crashing in. She didn't have an income anymore, had no idea what to do with bills or just day to day expenses, and was lost in general.
To be honest, I didn't even know how to help her. I guess it's pretty bad to admit that when you're a personal finance blogger, but I was just as shell-shocked with the whole thing as she was. You can write about student loan debt all you want, but it doesn't prepare you to take on someone else's finances at 27 years old.
A little over a year later with a lot of bumps and frustration (because I didn't know what I was doing) along the way, I feel like we are just now getting her settled in and have a plan for her moving forward.
Here are four things I've learned through this crappy process:
1. You have to sit down and have the death talk with your spouse at least once a year
Look. Death sucks. I don't like talking or writing about it, and I'm sure you're squirming a little while reading this because it forces you to wrestle with the reality that you're going to die eventually.
But at the same time, it's your obligation to get comfortable with the fact that you won't be around forever for your spouse, especially if you're a guy. This isn't to say that women don't need to as well, but statistically, Adam is more screwed than Eve in the life expectancy department.
I hate that because it means that I'll most likely leave my wife alone at some point, which is heartbreaking. You know what's also kinda heartbreaking? Asking my wife to sit down so soon after losing her father and talk with me about what my wishes are if I were to get hit by the bus unexpectedly.
But it's the responsible thing to do. She needs to know if I want to be cremated or buried and if I have anything that I really want to happen after I'm gone with specific possessions.
Here's why you need to have that talk tonight:
We are all lucky to wake up every day. I 100% live my life by that philosophy. But you just never know when it will be the last time. If something does happen, it's better for your spouse if you have that awkward conversation now before you can't have it anymore.
2. Keep a list of all of your account passwords somewhere where your spouse can get to them
After running this site for a while and talking to a lot of different couples, I know that everyone runs their household finances differently. Some couples handle everything equally, and some have just one spouse in full control of everything.
Whatever way you both choose to do it is totally cool.
But you know what's impossible to remember when you're in total shock/grief? Freaking passwords.
When I was trying to help my mother-in-law get into various accounts so we could access money that she needed, it was almost impossible for either one of us to figure them out. My father-in-law managed most of the more important accounts in their relationship.
We had to go through multiple phone calls with a brokerage, fill out paperwork, go to their physical location, etc. It sucked.
Make a written list of every important password you have and put it somewhere safe. Just trust me.
3. You need a will, even if you're a young couple
Welp. I'm guilty of breaking a rule in my own post. My wife and I don't have a will, and honestly, we should.
As a Millennial, it's way too easy to get caught in the mindset that you're still super young and a will is something that you'll need later on.
I don't know if you're like us, but we have some assets now that we didn't have 5 years ago. What if we both get hit by the bus? What would happen to our possessions? Our animals?
(Yes we have animals instead of kids because, well…Millennials).
But honestly, it's not enough to just have a will. It needs to be well-thought-out and specific enough to where your account's executor (and you'll have to choose one of those too) can carry it out and fulfill your final wishes properly.
If you leave too much leniency in the will and aren't specific with what you want to happen, it just leads to more stress for everyone that's dealing with your estate after you're gone.
You don't want to be remembered as the jerk who somehow made people's lives more difficult on the way out haha.
Here's a good resource from Kiplinger on creating a living will and an end of life will. I'll be starting this today with my wife.
4. Get life insurance (if you need it)
If you have a lot of private student loan debt (federal loans are forgiven upon death thank goodness), credit cards, or a mortgage – you need to set your spouse up for success by getting a life insurance policy ASAP.
Here's the deal. If you're relatively healthy and a Millennial, it's cheap AF.
We can debate about term life policies vs. whole life policies all we want, but at the end of the day, it's more important that you just have something. Don't let yourself get hit with paralysis by analysis over a product that's stupid simple to buy now with all of the fancy online life insurance platforms out there.
Right now, I have a $500,000 term life policy through Haven Life (shameless plug but they're good) that's like $20 a month. That's chump change in return for making sure my wife will have an easier time if something happened to me.
She's self-sufficient and would make it on her own just fine, but an extra $500k would probably make the transition a little smoother.
Now, if you don't have kids, aren't in debt, or are already self-insured, then maybe you don't have to go that route.
Sorry to bum you out, but I've been on the wrong side of this topic before. If you don't have a plan with your spouse (or even if you're single) for what needs to happen after one or both of you pass away, you'll need to adult for a day or two and tackle this.
It's legitimately not *that* complicated, and it will be a blessing for the people that you leave behind. Also, I hope nothing bad happens to you so be super careful today. Look both ways when you cross the street and all of that. 🙂