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How to Protect Your Loved Ones After You're Gone

Aug 21, 2019 5 min read Ilana Polyak

Key Takeaways

  • Encourage loved ones to work through their grief — before you die.
  • Life insurance can ease your family's financial worries while they grieve.
  • List all financial assets in one place.

 

Amelia was newly married to Manny, one of the funniest people she had ever met, she says. The future looked bright, and the couple planned to start a family soon. But when Manny died suddenly, all those plans were upended, leaving Amelia as a young widow who had to remake her life.

 

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It's hard to know what to expect and what emotions will emerge when a loved one dies, but you can help prepare your family and friends as much as possible for your own death. Such conversations are difficult, to be sure. But if you help prepare your loved ones while you are still alive and healthy, they may be more well-equipped to manage their grief and healing after you are gone. You should also prepare your finances well ahead of time so your loved ones won't have to experience the stress of financial worry during their time of mourning.


Strength in numbers

While there's comfort to be found in your own community, your loved ones might benefit from a support group of people similarly affected by loss. You can gather a list of support groups in your area that are geared towards people who are similar to your loved ones, be it adult children, parents or siblings. You can then include this list with your other important estate papers.

Amelia found comfort from a young widow's support group. She considered it a lifesaver during the dark months after Manny's death, she says.

“It helped a little bit to stop feeling like I was some sort of freak, to meet other people like me," she says.


The gift of time

In our fast-paced times, people may feel they should move on quickly following a loss. But grief can take time, and your loved ones should anticipate a potentially long journey. Help them understand that everyone heals on their own timetable, and they don't need to rush.

For Amelia, the turning point was a pilgrimage she went on in Spain two years after Manny died. As she walked the Camino de Santiago, Amelia realized she was ready to let him go.

“It didn't mean that I would love him any less, not for a minute. It didn't mean that anything was different, except that I accepted it," she says.

After this realization, she was more easily able to move on with her life. After she joined a chorus, she met Marc, whom she eventually married. They now have a baby boy.


Protect them when you're not there

Life insurance is a must if you have people who depend on you. The death benefit of a life insurance policy can provide much-needed income for your loved ones as they begin to pick up the pieces.

At the time of his death, Manny was training to be a doctor. He had just a small policy through the hospital where he worked. Amelia used it to pay for his funeral and final expenses.

Having adequate insurance can, for example, allow your partner to take time off from work or travel. It can enable your spouse to hire domestic help to pick up some of the extra household chores that may pile up. It allows for the continuation of the lifestyle your partner and children are used to. No matter how life insurance is used, it can buy your loved ones time to focus on their own grieving process — without the strain of financial worry.

Amelia understands all too well the importance of life insurance now that she's remarried and has a baby. “God forbid if something were to happen to me, while he's grieving the loss of his mother, I don't want him to have the additional worry of finances," she says about her desire to protect her son.


Everything in its place

As important as it is for your loved ones to take time for themselves to grieve, bear in mind that they will likely need to attend to a number of financial decisions in the immediate aftermath of your death. You can make this process smoother by organizing your affairs.

Make a list of all your financial assets, such as bank and investment accounts, deeds, life insurance policies, and account numbers and contacts. Also include online accounts and their passwords. Put all of this information in one safe place and ensure that your loved ones will know where to find it if you precede them in death.

If you are planning to leave an inheritance, you might want to hold a family meeting to tell your loved ones what they will receive and why. This is your opportunity to explain your reasoning and answer any questions so there aren't any hurt feelings or family rifts after your death. You can hold this meeting with a financial professional or estate planner who can act as a mediator and answer any complicated questions you or your family might have.

 

What you can do next

Executing a will is an important first step toward ensuring your family is prepared for your passing. It spells out how you want your estate distributed once you're gone. In addition, check the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, so you can ensure they reflect your current wishes. You may also want to ask an estate planner about creating a trust, which can help your family avoid the probate process following your death.

 

Please consult your tax and legal advisors regarding your particular circumstances.

 

 

Footnotes

Ilana Polyak is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance and the financial advisory industry. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Barron's, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and CNBC.com.

 

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