Saturday, December 30, 2006

Recovery after your wife passed away


If you read my last BLOG post, you will remember that my wife Cheryl (of 24 years) passed away on December 21st. I have written several Journal entries in my online journal, but I have yet to talk about the difficult emotional problems and the deep sadness involved.

But I don't think any of that belongs in a Personal Finance BLOG...but there is actually a very important aspect of my situation that does, and that revolves around what I have had to do in order to take control of the family finances and keep everything rolling along well.

First of all, it is far too early to day that everything is going to go well...but I have to say that my wife left things so well organized that so far I have been able to pick-up things, find all the accounts, the current state of bills, understand our bill paying calendar and continue on without any late payments. (so far)

First, you must understand that I took care of our retirement finances, and my wife Cheryl did all the day to day nuts and bolts bill paying. I literally did NOTHING in that regard except to keep my credit and ATM card receipts in my wallet so that Cheryl could reach in to my wallet and grab the slips in order to reconcile the account.

So when she passed away.....I thought I was totally lost. We don't have an incredibly complex financial situation having only two major credit cards (we rarely use one of them), three checking accounts (one is tied to our large investment account and is mostly only used to transfer in and out of there...and another is a small credit union account with $30 in it!)

But we have a fairly complex number of bills with odd schedules having two daughters in school and several different loans and tuition plans coming into play. (along with dutch debit accounts, car payments, house, utilities, etc....)

Some of our payments are made online, some by check, and some are automatically withdrawn....

We also have a safe deposit box in which as have some of our more important family documents. I could have just let things "roll" and dealt with any missed or skipped payments by paying their late fees....but I hate late fees and I didn't want to be late on any payments!

It has only been about a week, but I have to say that my wife Cheryl had documented and left organizing instructions that a child could understand, and it was all clearly done in the above pictured rack of file folders.

Here are the keys to her organization:
  1. A single sheet of paper that lists all our money accounts (ins and outs) by name, institution, account number and has a contact name and number of a person or department to call. This sheet included a location for the safe deposit bank keys, the address of the bank and instructions on how to access the box.
  2. A single sheet of paper that lists all our normal monthly expenses, the day or week of the month they are due, how they are paid (online, check, auto-withdraw from which account) and the typical amount of the bill. (or the range)
  3. A single sheet of paper listing all online accounts, the login names, passwords and any specific information needed to access the account.
  4. A single file folder with all unpaid bills needed to be processed. When a bill came in, she placed it in this folder, When she processed it, she marked it paid on which date...made an entry in whatever checkbook or payment instrument and placed the marked up invoice into a file folder for that "bill" in the larger file cabinet. (There was an sort of paper trail that I could follow to see if past bills were paid and when)
  5. The odd and important expenses, like my daughters college loans, tuition and misc non-periodic bills had their own file folder where past payments paperwork were kept for easy reference. She also had a single sheet of paper in each folder that outlined any past and projected future payments....with an estimate of the next required payments and on which dates.
The only thing Cheryl might have included in her information might have been the name and phone number of our tax accountant, since I will have to be contacting him to work on taxes before you know it....and since getting our tax information prepared was also Cheryl's work, this is something I have to get working on sooner than later! (I was the money spender....Cheryl took care of all the bookwork :-)

So we have only just begun the task of adding my daughters onto my accounts and to the safe deposit box....but at least the family machinary is set-up to receive and pay bills...and this only because my dear wife was not only organized, but created and left a great documentation trail.

None of us wants to think about our own death....but if we really love those who are left to pick-up after us and if we want them to "keep going", we would take the extra time needed to document the process we go through.

May you be every-ready but never need to use your preparations.

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