Tag Archives: widow

Do you know your spouse’s passwords?


A recent article in the Huffington Post really emphasized why you need to be sure to learn your spouse’s passwords…while he or she is still alive to tell you what they are.  The article, titled “I’m Still Paying For My Dead Husband’s Cell Phone Because I Don’t Know His Childhood Friend’s Name”, is printed here in its entirety.

The photo is of the author, Ann Brenoff, and her now deceased husband.

“Make a record of your passwords, folks.

Until I became widowed two months ago, I thought death was a finality. After it happened, I would have the time and space to mourn. I’ve since learned that death is actually followed by a long web of subscriptions, billing services and other minutia ? along with a series of arguments with customer service professionals reading from scripts. 

Unraveling my husband’s life has been a complicated problem, primarily for one reason: His passwords were not in his “important papers” file. 

As a result, my access to his personal accounts is limited, and depending on the company with which I’m dealing, the malarky of what passes for customer service is off the charts.

Take for example his cell phone carrier, a global company with 40,000 employees, none of whom apparently work on weekends. They won’t stop billing me for his phone service because I can’t get into his account to cancel it. I don’t know his password.

And I can’t override the password with his account’s security question ? the first name of his first childhood friend. Vic was 81 when he died ? I feel safe suspecting that he probably wouldn’t have remembered this name either.

Recently, a customer service rep offered me this option: Drive to a company store to “authenticate” my husband’s account, bring his driver’s license, Social Security number, death certificate and our marriage license. For real. Oh, and then call him back because I clearly must have plenty of time on my hands. Mind you, they are still billing my credit card while giving me the run-around. 

Death certificates are the key to the universe.

The root of dealing with all post-death matters is having a copy of a certified death certificate. You can do nothing without one. The best advice anyone gave me was to order multiple copies because everyone, including the gas company, wants one.

Getting a death certificate, at least in Los Angeles, is best accomplished by rising before dawn, taking a day off work and going in person with plenty of quarters for the parking meter. And don’t forget to bring your own pen; things are a little tight at our government offices these days.

Once armed with copies of my husband’s death certificate, I set out to move all his accounts into my name and square away the mountain of paperwork that comes with the end of life. And while it’s certainly been a journey of discovery ? we’ve been spending how much on premium cable so he could watch Cubs games from Los Angeles? ? it has pitted me against more than one instance of corporate absurdity.

Customer service is a contradiction of terms.

Take for example the bank that wouldn’t switch our account notifications to my email from his. We have banked with them for decades and all our accounts are jointly held with survivor rights. Even worse, the bank has his cell phone number on file ? yes, the one I hope to get rid of. 

The cable company, usually the boogeyman of the utility companies we deal with, turned out to be not-so-bad. I just had to threaten to not pay them if they didn’t switch the name on the account. Ditto for the propane company. 

Credit cards are generally pretty happy to remove names. The mail-order pharmacy, not so much, especially when automatic refills are involved. Eventually, every automatic refill will outlive its subscriber and medications aren’t returnable. Who wins in this scenario? 

Car insurance, his driver’s license, his Social Security and Medicare, his magazine subscriptions and his airline miles ? flash that death certificate and you are good to go. 

But the ability to cancel his cell phone service? That one remains elusive.

Widowhood is not for the weak. One minute, you’re fine and the next you’re a raving lunatic. You curse your dead spouse when you have a flat tire, when you just don’t have the energy to drive your kid to the school bus stop and no one else is around to help. It can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you just want one thing ? just one ? to be easy. Like, you know, canceling a cell phone plan.”

For information about end of life planning, check out our website www.diesmart.com.

Are you financially prepared to be a widow?

475498It’s a fact that women live longer than men in every country in the world.  It’s important to be prepared and to start looking at widowhood as a when, not an if.

More than one in five women 60 or older is living in poverty.  A survey of women whose partners had died revealed that half of them lost at least 50% of their income following their spouse’s death, and 48% had trouble determining what Social Security benefits they were entitled to.

Here’s what you need to do to stay financially secure after your spouse is gone:

  1. Get involved in family finances.  Don’t just let your husband handle everything.  If you and your husband use a financial advisor, get involved in meetings and share in the decision making process.Make sure you know all of the financial information for you and your husband – bank and brokerages account numbers, insurance companies, contact information for your financial advisor, CPA, insurance agent, and attorney.  You should also know the location of all important documents, the combination to any safes, the location of your safe deposit box key and a master list of computer logins and passwords.
  2. Know about life insurance.  If you don’t currently have a policy, it might be worth getting one.  It’s an easy, tax-free way to replace income after your spouse dies.
  3. Consider – and reconsider – a prenup.  This document may be able to protect and exclude some assets from your marriage, which could be very helpful after your spouse dies by possibly helping you to avoid large tax implications of assets that could otherwise be considered joint marital property.  It’s worth consulting an attorney before you wed and then later in your marriage.
  4. Understand your survivor benefits.  It’s a good idea to know what you’re entitled to before the death of your spouse.  You should know about the Social Security benefits for both of you and understand the options you have.Be sure your beneficiaries are up to date.  This is especially important if this is a second marriage for either of you.   Transfer on Death (TOD) designations (beneficiary designations for non-retirement accounts) and beneficiaries should be tied to as many assets as possible.  TOD designations can keep assets from being frozen during the probate process.
  5. Consolidate your accounts.  If you have many individually titled investment accounts, this can prove a time-consuming mess for the surviving spouse.  You should consider consolidating accounts, especially if your spouse has similar IRA or other accounts.  Every account has its own process and documents when the owner or one of the owners dies; having many different accounts usually doesn’t serve a real purpose.  Consolidation results in less paperwork to deal with after the owner’s death.
  6. Work with your financial advisor, not the bank.  You might be tempted to let your bank handle everything after your husband dies, but that could be a big mistake.  The bank may aggregate all of your assets and then try to sell you financial products you don’t need.  Instead, you should consult your financial advisor both before and after the death of your spouse.If you haven’t worked with a financial advisor, accountant or lawyer, or if you have typically let your husband deal with these people, you should get to know them too.  That way, you will have a group of advisors you know and trust who can help you after your husband’s death.
  7. Don’t make any major life changes right away.  Most advisors suggest that widows make no significant life changes for the first year after the death of their spouse.  You should not be in a hurry to spend or invest your money while setting the estate.  You need to be sure you have a full grasp of your new financial situation first.Losing your spouse is a devastating event.  Don’t make it more devastating by become financially insecure after becoming a widow.  Take steps before this happens to protect yourself financially.  Have open and honest conversations about money with your spouse and your financial advisor now to ensure a smoother transition to when you’re a widow.

For more information about estate planning, go to www.diesmart.com.