By Cindy Bondi, Surviving Spouse Advisory Council member
When I think back to before my husband’s passing, I remember how out of touch I felt about our financial situation. He paid the bills; handled the banking, investments, and insurance policies; and collected tax information. It is not that I could not have taken over the finances after his cancer diagnosis, but it was one of the last functions that he was able to carry out, even in his weakening condition. I could not take that control away.
What I did begin to do behind the scenes was make lists. My first concern was his passwords, not only for his computer but also for all the banking and service websites. He managed to keep a record for me, along with updated changes, on a thumb drive.
Second, the bills were a concern. I requested that even though he was paying them online, I would prefer to get a hard copy in the mail for all bills and end-of-year tax statements. That way, I would be assured not to miss a bill payment, and I would be better prepared for the next tax season should I need to take over.
Third, some bills were being paid directly on our credit cards. This was not as much of a concern to me because most charges have phone number to call if anything questionable appears on a statement.
I gave him a few tasks to work on, for which he was happy to comply. He made calls to, for example, the Gas and Light Co., to inform them that he wanted my name to be put on the accounts along with his.
Credit cards we had been using were issued in both of our names, but I was only an authorized user, rather than a joint account holder. This caused an automatic closing out of the credit card after notification of my husband’s death. This chaos could have been avoided had I been a joint account holder.
DD-214 Forms are requested after a death, and so getting it ahead of time and storing it in an accessible location is helpful. A safety deposit box is not accessible during the weekend and so is not the best location to store.
One of the first lists I made during this time contained the names and phone numbers of a handful of people in my life who could spread the word for me to other friends and relatives.
My lists could go on and on, but I want to stress that no matter how prepared we are to lose a spouse, it is always an unavoidable process to get through all the paperwork.