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On Balance. We Offer You More. SM&L provides a full range of services to clients in Connecticut, Massachusettss, Rhode Island, New York, California and Florida; we also provide consulting services on a national basis.

Prepare you finances before a loss

According to Benjamin Franklin, the only certainties in this life are "death and taxes." Prudent couples plan for the future, including the reality of death, even when both partners expect to live for decades.

Someone who loses a spouse, especially one whose death was not expected, may struggle with unfamiliar financial and legal matters. Dealing with emotions while trying to sort out investments, loans and insurance policies can make the process immeasurably more stressful. Establishing a plan before the death of a spouse can reduce anxiety and ensure assets are protected and bills continue to be paid.

At a minimum, your plan should include four elements:

1. Location of key documents. Know where to find wills, marriage certificates, life insurance policies, property deeds, car titles and bank account details. Consider scanning the main pages of these documents and storing them on a flash drive that's kept at the home of a family member. The surviving spouse will need these documents to claim insurance benefits, pay bills and distribute assets.

2. List of passwords. Without appropriate passwords and user identification, spouses may not have access to key online accounts. Consider listing all passwords in a spreadsheet that's password-protected. Share the password to this single spreadsheet with your spouse and at least one trusted family member.

3. Net worth and budget statements. A net worth statement is a snapshot of your assets and liabilities, including property, credit cards and mortgages. A budget statement lists regular income sources and bills to be paid each month or quarter, including utilities, taxes, insurance premiums and loan payments. If kept current, these two basic documents should enable the surviving spouse to manage ongoing household finances.

4. List of trusted professionals. The surviving spouse should know the contacts for legal and financial advice, including the family accountant, insurance agent and lawyer. If your spouse was employed at the time of death, a human resources contact should be listed as well.

These items will help you start your plan. Every family is different, so customize your plan and list of items to best fit your situation.

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