Estate Planning

Surviving the death of a spouse

Susan was 29 when she lost her husband in a car accident. She had three children under age five. Their care and emotions were an immediate issue, but she had far more to be concerned about.

A former registered nurse, Susan had always left all of the family finances to Toby, her husband. Paralyzed with grief, she felt overwhelmed and was incapable of paying bills, managing the bank accounts, handling her husband’s estate, managing his investments and dealing with the pension plan.

Fortunately, a financially savvy family member stepped in to help Susan deal with the family finances.

If you lost your spouse . . .

If you lost your spouse, how capable would you be of coping with the emotional and personal issues, let alone the business and finances? While some matters can be deferred, others cannot.

Life continues even after a loved one’s death. Mortgage payments must be made, groceries must be purchased and utilities must be paid for. There are Insurance claims to be handled, pensions to be managed and an estate to administer.

In her excellent new book, Managing Alone, Your Trusted Advisors’ Guide to Surviving the Death of Your Spouse, financial advisor Jennifer Black says it’s important to have a plan in case you lose your spouse and are unable to cope.

Black and business partner Janet Baccarani co-wrote this easy-to-read book with stories of real people dealing with the death of a spouse.

Financial advisors

Written primarily for financial advisors, this book provides insight, counsel, direction, encouragement, and information to guide people through the financial transition to the next stage of their lives.

Having a will and an estate plan, Black says, “does not mean talking about death, but rather talking about living. Having these things in place allows people to continue to live despite tragedy.”

Black recommends that people engage the assistance of a professional. Many problems can be avoided by using a professional who is familiar with what needs to be done.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice is for both spouses to be fully involved in a couple’s finances. Know what bank accounts and investments you have, for example, and who to go to for information. “The common mistake people make,” Black says, “is not being engaged in the joint finances prior to losing a loved one.”

She recommends that all non-registered accounts be in joint name. Otherwise, you may require original wills and death certificates to access bank accounts upon a spouse’s death.

The authors’ website,, has a database of professionals (lawyers, estate administrators, tax experts and so on) who are vetted for suitability. (This website is not yet expanded to all parts of Canada.)

“It’s a good feeling to know,” Black says, “that we have the ability to make lives a bit easier during a difficult situation. Our aim is to help them move through that chapter and forward.”

A loved one’s death is stressful and emotional enough without adding the pressures of having to quickly delve into finances with which you may have no familiarity or experience. This book can save recent widows and widowers from painful mistakes that can cost a great deal of money.

From nearly two decades as a financial planner, it’s my belief that most people are inadequately prepared for most of the financial issues in their lives. Perhaps no one is adequately prepared for the loss of a spouse, but this excellent book can help them cope.

If you know someone who has lost a spouse, you might give this as a gift. Or, consider it for yourself if you want to get your financial affairs in order so you can be prepared – just in case.