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Financially Speaking

Handling Family Finances

Watch out if your spouse says, 'Honey, I'll take care of everything'

2. What to do with lump sums? If the survivor will collect life insurance or an inheritance, discuss how to handle it. Attach a note to the policy or the will to help you remember the conversation.

3. How to handle existing investments? Some widows start reading financial books and discover the little secret that simple investing isn't hard. They hold some of the money in the bank or a money fund, to help pay expenses over the next three to five years, and invest the rest in low-cost mutual funds that own stocks and bonds. Others, however, may never feel confident managing money. Husbands do them a favor by having a tested financial adviser already in place.

4. What about drug coverage, long-term care and life insurance on the surviving spouse? Discuss what to keep, what to update (such as correct beneficiaries) and what to cancel (for example, the survivor might not need life insurance). Attach a "reminder" note to each policy.

5. Where are all the financial records? Gather into labeled folders: bank records (and the key to the safe deposit box); passwords to online accounts; Social Security number; retirement plans and other investments; insurance policies; wills, trusts, health care proxy and power of attorney; loans; deeds; buy-sell agreements with a business partner; employee benefits; records of any money you're owed; personal papers such as a marriage certificate; recent tax returns; bankruptcy records, to prevent a widow from being dunned for a debt that the court discharged; and the names and contacts of your advisers — broker, planner, insurance agent.

After a period of sheer terror, most survivors get their minds around their money. Your plan, as a couple, should be to skip the terror phase and move directly to peace.

Also of interest: Steps to get ready for your retirement. >>

Jane Bryant Quinn is a personal finance expert and author of Making the Most of Your Money NOW.

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