Host: A spouse's death can be the most stressful time of your life. As you grieve, you likely have to make financial decisions with wide-ranging implications.
Here, Joe Sicchitano, Head of Financial Planning for SunTrust Bank and SunTrust Investment Services, talks about the financial and emotional aspects of managing your spouse's estate.
Sicchitano: I think, first, focusing on the grieving process with family and friends, making your immediate arrangements, and surrounding yourself with that personal support system should always be the top priority.
I think it's also okay to make smaller decisions, but given the stressful situation, I would think that postponing some of the bigger discussions about finances, wills, secondary concerns until that process—the grieving process—is a little farther down the road is probably wise.
Host: When you're ready, seek out advisers who can help you manage the logistical and emotional elements of the situation. This may include a financial adviser, an accountant, your attorney, and also people who comprise your emotional support system. From there, Sicchitano says that you should start gathering the right documents.
Sicchitano: Just the document trail that happens with a death can be daunting. So, just pausing to locate documents that relate to the financial picture, that relate to the benefits, that may be appropriate or apply at a death, property, and wills, and how property is going to be distributed. That could include insurance plans. It could include the wills, trusts. It could include powers of attorney, beneficiary designations. All of those types of documents, in addition to statements about assets and liabilities.
Host: Also gather your spouse's bank, income, and savings account statements. Then, delve into all of these documents with your advisory team to understand the new financial reality you now face.
Sicchitano: Now, looking at those assets and trying to determine, how are they held? How are they—not only held, but how are they supposed to be, you know, dispersed? So, depending on the ownership and depending on the vehicle, there are rules that apply. So, how does joint ownership compare to something that may be singly owned, but has a beneficiary designation? Versus those assets that don't have that type of automatic disposition, then we’ll have to revert back to the will. So, looking at how they're owned and how they're going to then be distributed would be a good second step.
Another positive step that I would recommend would be to identify benefits that the surviving spouse may be entitled to that are a result of the deceased spouse benefits. So what does that mean? It means contacting former employers. It means looking at insurance policies and evaluating them for benefits that may be due to the surviving spouse. That also includes things like social security benefits.
Then after you've taken inventory and understand how assets are owned and supposed to be distributed, now we have to physically actually distribute them. So what does that process look like? So some of that happens automatically, as we've said, by contract. Some of that happens automatically just by the way it's owned, but then there are others that have to actually be distributed according to the will and that is the second separate step.
And then lastly, after kind of all of the dust is settled, now that we have a really clear and accurate picture of our new present circumstance, now let's revisit our plans. You know, what has the impact been on the surviving spouse partner's long-term plans? Re-evaluating and coming up with a new plan of action based on the new reality is really a good, new starting point, and it also allows the survivor to start thinking proactively and positively about the future.
Host: For more information, contact your SunTrust advisor or visit us online at SunTrust.com/wealth.
At a time when you should be focused on grieving, you often need to make important decisions regarding your spouse’s estate. Joe Sicchitano, Head of Financial Planning, SunTrust Bank and SunTrust Investment Services, provides advice on how to make the best financial decisions for yourself and loved ones in the months after a spouse’s death.
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