Take Time to Build, and Later to Mourn

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Physician's Money Digest, November30 2003, Volume 10, Issue 22

The death of a long-term partner leaves thesurviving partner forced to make someimportant financial decisions. There aremany details you will have to deal with earlyon. Because you don't want to think about financeswhen you're grieving, Ken and Daria Dolan suggest aschedule for taking care of business. The following isa standard list of items you will need to address, listedin order of priority:

• Request 15 certified copies of your spouse'sdeath certificate from your State Department of VitalRecords. To save time and energy, ask the funeral parlorto obtain these for you. Each copy will cost about$6. The funeral parlor will tack the cost onto theirbill, and all expenses can then be paid by yourspouse's estate. You'll need these certificates to closeor rename accounts, apply for benefits, and collectinsurance proceeds.

• If you have dependent children, look at yourown life insurance policy and see if the payout wouldtake care of them if anything happened to you. If it'stoo low, increase your coverage. Make an appointmentwith a lawyer to update your will/trust and beneficiarydesignations on retirement plans, insurancepolicies, and jointly held assets.

• If you don't already have one, open a checkingaccount in your name. If you and your spouse hadjoint checking and savings accounts, now is the timeto put these accounts in your name. Get a credit cardin your name if you don't already have one.

While you're at the bank, set up a new "estate"checking account to keep your money separate fromthe money in your spouse's estate. You will use thisaccount to pay for estate-related expenses and depositestate-related income. Otherwise, you could wait upto 2 years to be reimbursed for expenses you pay onthe estate's behalf.

• Apply for Social Security survivor benefits andhave it directly deposited into your checking account.Your dependent children can receive 50% to 70% ofyour spouse's Social Security benefits until they reachage 19, as long as they are full-time students. You cancollect 100% of your spouse's benefit once you reachage 65 (or age 50, if you're disabled). A disabled childcan collect benefits for life.

When you make the trip to your local SocialSecurity office, be sure to bring a certified copy ofyour spouse's death certificate, marriage certificate,your birth certificate, and the birth certificates of anychildren under age 18. You'll also need to bring yourspouse's last paycheck stub or income tax return andSocial Security number. To find the Social Securityoffice located nearest you, call 800-772-1213 or visitwww.ssa.gov/regions/regional.html.

• Apply for life insurance and pension benefits.Your spouse may have had life insurance policiesthrough work, professional or fraternal clubs, alumniassociations, or even a credit card's "credit life" insurance.Write each insurance company a short letter.The letter should read, "My spouse passed away on[date]. Please forward to me all life insurance proceeds,payable to the beneficiary listed, for any lifeinsurance policies in effect as of the date listedabove." In addition, you can use the same procedureto apply for pension benefits.

• Make a thorough search for assets your partnerleft behind. A detailed estate inventory may uncoverforgotten assets, such as savings bonds, insurancepolicies, veterans' benefits, or stocks and bonds. Meetwith your attorney and the company benefits administrator.Review past tax returns, bank/brokeragestatements, and other financial statements. Rememberto check safety deposit boxes.

Adapted from Don't Mess with My Money, by Ken and DariaDolan, copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission from Currency/Doubleday Books.

Ken and Daria Dolan are the hosts of TheDolans, the nation's #1-rated personal financeshow, which originates from WOR-AM in NewYork. For 4 years, they served as money editorson CBS This Morning and CBS News SaturdayMorning. They also previously hosted their ownpopular personal finance show on CNBC andhave appeared on many other television shows, including TheToday Show.