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Wealth & Well-Being

My Spouse Has Been Diagnosed with a Terminal Illness. How Do I Navigate the Tough Financial Decisions Ahead?

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It’s hard to imagine life without your partner, spouse, and best friend by your side. If you’re reading this, you may be going through an extremely difficult time as you come to terms with your spouse’s terminal illness diagnosis. Not only is it a profoundly emotional event, but it also raises many important financial considerations.

In this article, we’ve outlined a few key areas of focus you and your spouse can work through together to better prepare for the road ahead.

First, Connect With a Financial Partner

Your journey to and through widowhood is one you shouldn’t travel alone. If you haven’t already, reach out to a financial professional who can help you make sense of your current financial standings and prepare you for what may lie ahead.

Ideally, you should consider working with a Certified Financial Transitionist® who has extensive experience in helping individuals navigate the personal and financial sides of a major life event such as the one you are going through. Our all-woman team at Northstar includes multiple CeFT®’s who specialize in helping those who’ve recently lost or are preparing to lose a partner.

Your advisor can help facilitate conversations between you and your spouse now that otherwise may be tough to explore on your own. They can also provide a checklist of “to-do” items in preparation for the journey ahead.

If you don’t yet have a team of other professionals, your financial advisor can recommend estate attorneys and tax professionals. They can coordinate between you and these other specialists to ensure all aspects of your financial life are being taken care of during this difficult time.

Gather a List of Accounts and Login Information

It’s likely you and your spouse have separate accounts and login information for important online accounts. What could take your spouse a few minutes to jot down on a piece of paper could take you hours of searching, calling, and fighting with representatives later down the line. So while your spouse is still here and capable, have them make a list of accounts, usernames, and passwords that you will need access to after their passing. 

Examples of accounts include anything from important financial accounts (banking, investment accounts, credit cards) to social media profiles, file sharing or photo storage accounts, streaming services, business accounts, and email.

Determine Immediate Cash Flow Needs

It is highly likely that this diagnosis has affected your current household income and expenses. Take some time to determine what funds are needed in the short term, and what sources of income may be available, including disability benefits or accelerated death benefits from a life insurance policy.

Review Current Beneficiary Designations and Account Titling

While your partner is still here to make changes, help them check on the beneficiary designation of any life insurance policies, 401(k)s, and IRAs. Otherwise, money may inadvertently go to an ex-spouse or other family member after their passing. Even if their will and other estate planning documents are up-to-date, beneficiary designations will take precedence in probate court. 

Consider adding TOD to any brokerage accounts, POD to any bank accounts, or titling accounts to a revocable living trust to avoid passing through probate.

Create a Medical Directive and Discuss Power Of Attorney

Make sure you have the power to advocate and speak on your spouse’s behalf when they are unable to. Legal documents such as power of attorney give you the ability to make decisions for your spouse, pay bills, sell property, access accounts, and more while they’re still living. It’s important to note that once your spouse has passed, however, a power of attorney becomes null and void. At that time, the executor of the estate will take over (which can be you as well, if named so in your spouse’s will).

A medical or healthcare directive doesn’t give you the ability to make decisions on your spouse’s behalf (for that, you’ll need a medical power of attorney). But it is a document you can help your spouse create that outlines how they’d like to be treated by healthcare professionals. A medical directive could include a do not resuscitate order, for example. 

Discuss Their Final Wishes

Asking your spouse what type of memorial service they’d like or how they’d like to be buried takes a lot of the stress and guess work of arranging a funeral off your shoulders. 

It can also help you estimate and set aside future funeral and burial costs, which can average between $6,971-$7,848.1 We know this is a difficult topic to discuss, but it’s also important to make sure their will and other estate planning documents accurately and completely represent their final wishes.  

Again, this is something that a Certified Financial Transitionist® can help you accomplish together with your estate planning professionals.

Northstar Is Here to Help

When working with women and their spouses, we help prioritize what financial and legal action items should be taken care of while everyone involved is still able to participate in the planning process. There are many important, non-reversible financial decisions that deserve careful planning and consideration. If you’re in the midst of a difficult journey, please know that we are here to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us any time.

Written by Rachel DeCarolis in collaboration with Lexicon Advisor Marketing

1 https://nfda.org/news/statistics

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