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Losing a partner or a spouse is hard. For some, this loss is made even more difficult by the fact that the surviving partner is left unprepared to handle family finances. Many families have one person who handles finances and bill paying and when that person dies, the other person can be left not knowing how to manage these tasks. You can make this transition easier for your loved ones by putting a plan in place to deal with finances and bill pay. Creating a plan that lays out information on things like how to pay bills and how to access financial accounts can help reduce stress for surviving family members.

In setting up a financial plan, ensuring that your partner can access accounts for things like finance and billing is a good place to start. Make sure that any user IDs and passwords for accounts are available. It’s okay to write down your account login information as long as you keep that information in a safe and secure place far from others’ prying eyes. Consider including information to access your cell phone and your email account in this list to make it easier to pay bills and access accounts. You should also consider making any information about frequent flier miles or other points available to your partner.

Help your partner access any accounts by changing or adding your partner as an owner. For bank accounts, you can either add your partner to an account or make them a beneficiary. You can also designate a beneficiary for social security benefits, a 401(k), an IRA, a life insurance policy, or a brokerage account.

Create a list of names of tax preparers, accountants, lawyers, or other financial advisors who your spouse can contact when you die. Make paying bills easier by setting up automatic bill pay and adding your partner’s name to the account. Create a list of all bills that get paid and how each bill is paid. If your partner is nervous about managing bill payments, walk through the payment process with them for different bills. If your partner needs help with budgeting, prepare a sample household budget and share it with them. You can include large expenses in any budget as well, including property tax or insurance expenses, and indicate where the money can come from to pay for these expenses. Including your spouse in these types of financial decisions and actions is a good idea. This can give the other spouse the experience and confidence needed to do things like pay bills and manage finances on their own.

You should also engage in advance planning. First, figure out what kind of funeral or memorial service you might like to have. Either make advance arrangements for this or share your wishes with your loved one.  Second, you can set up a will or a trust to dispose of your assets when you die. Make sure your spouse knows where they can find any estate planning documents and talk to your estate planning attorney to facilitate access for your spouse. Contra Costa Senior Legal Services offers free wills clinics at locations around Contra Costa County. Call us at (925) 609-7900 to learn more. Please note that our wills clinics have eligibility requirements.

Consider setting up an advance healthcare directive. While these deal mainly with healthcare decisions that must be made while you are still alive, setting up an advance healthcare directive is important because it can help loved ones make tough choices regarding your final healthcare wishes. Setting up an advance healthcare directive can relieve loved ones of the extra stress of having to make decisions regarding your care by laying out your healthcare wishes and by designating an agent to make decisions for you. To help your spouse manage household affairs and finances before you die, you can set up a durable power of attorney. These documents designate someone as your agent and gives that person the power to do things like pay bills and manage finances and property. Contra Costa Senior Legal Services can help you set up a durable power of attorney and an advance healthcare directive for free. Call us at (925) 609-7900 to learn more and set up an appointment without an advance planning specialist.