Do You Need a Financial Advisor? Understanding Financial Issues After Your Spouse Dies

Filed Under (Probate) on 04-18-2013

When a spouse dies, death of a spouse, spouse dies

In many marriages, one spouse takes primary responsibility for financial decisions. It is also quite common for one spouse to take care of some financial matters and for the other spouse to take care of different ones.

If you, now a surviving spouse, were not ever interested in finances during the marriage or were not the spouse who made many financial decisions, you may feel lost without your spouse’s guidance. In all honesty, you still may not be interested in learning very much about finances; although some surviving spouses do develop an interest and desire to learn once they realize how important finances are to their future quality of life. Even if you are the spouse who made the financial decisions, you may not be in a good emotional state to make wise decisions, at least for a while. A financial advisor can help. He or she can manage everything for you, teach you or just help out until you’re ready to take over again.

Before hiring financial expertise, it is always a good idea to interview several different financial advisors and learn as much about them and how they work as you can. If friends are recommending advisors, ask them in-depth questions about how they met the advisor, how long they have been working with him or her, the kind of services provided, and the actual results the advisor has achieved for them. No ethical financial advisor will guarantee you any particular return on your money. If someone is making promises that sound too good to be true, they probably are.

No matter what kind of advisor you ultimately choose, you should be given written information from the individual or institution on the following topics:

•    The scope of services offered.

•    The minimum account size the advisor will work with.

•    Exactly how the advisor is compensated for services (flat fees, hourly fees, percentage of assets under management, commissions from sales of financial products), and what services are covered by the fee.

•    Whether the fees are negotiable (they often are).

•    How financial decisions will be made: whether the advisor (1) will have full discretion, (2) will need to consult with you on every decision, or (3) will have authority over some decisions but not others.

•    How the advisor will communicate with you (financial statements, periodic meetings, phone calls at will, etc.).

•    The educational and professional credentials the advisor has earned, and how much experience the advisor has earned.

•    The flexibility of the planning. Be aware of how “locked up” your assets will be in case you need cash quickly at some time in the future.

•    Who will have custody of your account and who will have access to the assets (this is important for protection against financial fraud).

For a complete list and more information regarding finding a financial advisor, check out “Life After Death: A Legal and Practical Guide for Surviving Spouses”, by Marilyn W. McWilliams