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How To Prepare For An Unexpected Death

August 2019

By: Clark Penney

How much time have you spent thinking about your future death? If you’re like most people, probably not much. Thinking about your death or that of a loved one can bring up plenty of unpleasant emotions, but having a plan to take care of the details can ease some of the stress in a time of grief.

Psychological studies have shown that grief profoundly impacts our decision-making skills—and not for the better (*1). Making decisions and setting a plan in place now will ease some of the stress for your family and prevent them from making poor or rushed choices when they are in a time of shock or grief. So if you are ready to enter your Second Growth with a plan for the future, follow this checklist to help you deal with the financial side of an unexpected death.

Create A Will

Are you one of the 60% of Americans who don’t have a will (*2)? Your will outlines what happens with your property and dictates guardianship of your children. It also names your executor, who will carry out your wishes. You don’t want to leave these decisions to the State, which is what will happen if you don’t have a will. Make sure your spouse or other family members know how to access your will when the time comes, and remember to review it regularly to ensure it is up to date.

❏ Organize Legal Documents

Do you have an organized filing system, or are all your important documents strewn about in different places? Make sure your spouse or children have access to the following documents, which they will need to handle any legal details after you die:

  • Birth certificate
  • Death certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Social Security card
  • Automobile titles
  • Property deeds
  • Insurance policies
  • Bank, investment, and retirement account statements

❏ Review Benefits

Surviving family members may be entitled to certain benefits, such as Social Security and/or pension benefits, life insurance, and annuities. List out all the details pertaining to each benefit and communicate these to your family. Be sure to include the following:

  • Life insurance
  • Social Security
  • Annuities
  • Healthcare, or extended healthcare coverage through COBRA
  • Compensation due, such as stock options or unused vacation pay
  • 401(k) or pension

❏ Communicate Account Details

Finances can get messy when someone dies. You don’t want your family scrambling for money or unable to access account information. They will have enough stress to deal with already, so save them the trouble by making a list of all your financial accounts, including the name of the bank/institution, account number, type of account, name on the account, and contact information.

  • Checking account
  • Savings Account
  • Brokerage account
  • IRA
  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Health savings account
  • Flexible spending account
  • College funds

Don’t forget about debts. Your debts won’t go away just because you do. Your spouse will be responsible for taking over your debts, so do your best to prevent missed payments that could damage credit and cause undue stress. For every debt, communicate the creditor’s name, outstanding balance, name on the debt, loan terms, and the amount, timing, and method of payments.

  • Mortgage
  • Home equity line of credit
  • Automobile loans
  • Personal loans
  • Student loans
  • Credit cards

Make sure your spouse is familiar with recurring household expenses, such as utilities, and how and when to pay them.

  • Property taxes
  • Electricity
  • Sewer
  • Water
  • Natural gas
  • Garbage
  • Telephone
  • Cable TV
  • Internet service
  • Landscaping
  • House cleaning
  • Homeowners association dues
  • Other organization membership dues

Finally, provide contact information for your financial advisor, insurance agent, attorney, and accountant. These professionals are trained to know how to handle an unexpected death, and they will be able to direct your loved ones to the right sources of information and help them make the best decisions possible.

Update Insurance

When was the last time you reviewed your insurance policies? You most likely purchased insurance to protect those you love, so do your due diligence and verify that the various policies are current and beneficiary information is correct.

In addition to the life insurance payout that your family will receive, have all the details for your other policies in an easy-to-find spot. Your spouse will need to contact the companies to cancel or update the policies. This includes medical, dental, auto, long-term care, and homeowners, to name a few.

Build A Budget

An important part of developing a plan for your spouse to move forward alone will involve communicating your current spending needs.  If you don’t already have a written budget, begin tracking your expenses and create one. It will be an incredible aid when planning for the future.

Work With A Trusted Advisor

Having a support system with expertise in these areas will make your planning process simpler. Take the time now to build a relationship with an advisor and make sure your spouse and family members are involved so that if the unexpected happens, they have someone they can trust to help them handle matters. Financial professionals are experienced with these situations and can guide you through the steps that apply to your unique circumstances. They will not only help you take care of pressing problems and concerns, but can also help you feel more secure in a time of financial change.  A financial advisor can make sure your affairs are in order, update your financial plan, and implement appropriate strategies to help you stay on track financially.

Let’s Get Started

At Cypress Wealth Services, we believe it is worth your time to prepare for an unexpected death before it happens. We help you design a plan that prepares your finances for any situation and every stage of life. Contact one of our offices today to get started!


About Cypress Wealth Services

Cypress Wealth Services is an independent RIA firm providing financial planning and investment management to high net worth individuals, families, business owners, and institutions. Cypress Wealth Services comprises professionals with diverse backgrounds and extensive experience and qualifications. Cypress Wealth Services is uniquely qualified to serve a broad range of client needs, and their experience and expertise act as a foundation for their client service process. The firm uses The Second Growth, which focuses on efficiently protecting, growing, and transferring to their loved ones the wealth and legacy a person has already built. With offices in Palm Desert, CA, Tustin, CA, and Anchorage, AK, the firm serves clients across the country in Wealth Management Services, Fiduciary Services, 401(k) Design and Management, Investment Reporting Services, Financial and Retirement Planning, and more. For more information, visit or call 760.834.7250.