Surviving Spouse Corner: Hiring Professional Advisors for Estate Planning

By Micki Costello

No one ever wants to talk about death and dying, but it is a conversation that at some point everyone should have with their loved ones. Estate planning should start early and be reviewed periodically to make sure it accurately reflects one’s wishes and needs.

Lawyers, financial planners, and certified public accountants (CPAs) should be a considered part of estate planning. All have distinct functions, some of which overlap, and depending on the situation, you might need one or all of them. Lawyers provide the necessary legal paperwork — wills, trusts, etcetera — in estate planning and, if necessary, can assist in probating an estate.  Everyone should have a will; without one, the state decides what is done with your assets after death.

If you don’t already have one, getting a reliable, trusted, and ethical certified financial planner (CFP) should be a priority, particularly in the aftermath of the death of a supporting spouse.  Often, widows become the inheritors of an initial seeming windfall of cash due to the payout of insurance policies, combining IRAs, annuities, etcetera, and without careful planning, it can easily slip away. A CFP can make recommendations on how best to invest or grow the money, but it is imperative a client’s best interests are the priority. 

As the saying goes, the only sure things are “death and taxes.” A CPA can assist in making sure taxes are computed correctly and paid on time. While computer programs are available to accomplish much the same thing, it often is beneficial to hire a competent CPA to assist with the computations and filings at least in the first year after a death. 

The bottom line: When considering who to hire when dealing with finances, it is important to ensure these professionals are licensed and adhere to fiduciary rules.