Bereavement and financial transition — each is an emotionally charged issue on its own. When the two come together, the emotional impact multiplies. "It's a stressful time for everybody, in particular for those who have not had the opportunity to be prepared, who haven't been through it before, or who aren't familiar with their role," said Scott Simpson, Certified Financial Planner with Focus Financial in Minneapolis.
Simpson said there is a "continuum of communication," with some individuals preferring to be very private about both the emotional and financial aspects of a loved one's death while others are more open. "A range is acceptable, but as with any continuum, too far to either side can be a problem."
While the desire for privacy is understandable, Simpson said, people shouldn't be afraid to ask for help — both personal and professional. "Call in support from your religious organization, close friends and relatives," he said. "Don't be bashful about calling them in for whatever help is needed. Most people would appreciate being asked."
For example, it can be a good idea to have someone taking notes of the myriad meetings and phone calls with banks, insurance companies and attorneys. "The person closest to the loss is probably experiencing intense emotional swings," Simpson said. "I've had situations where people contacted me three, four or five times to get clarifications. It's OK to ask more than once."
A close friend or relative can also organize and type up a list of most-needed phone numbers or even help set up a filing system or a checklist of tasks that need to be done, the date completed and the outcome.
Simpson said it's important to "get as comfortable as you can that you know the process — your rights and requirements." That will probably include meeting with an attorney, financial planner or accountant. "It could be a whole team, working together," Simpson said.
And while openness and sharing help some people to cope emotionally, Simpson said, "Limit the amount of information you share beyond friends and family." A grief-stricken spouse or child might respond to a call from a creditor by quickly sending payment, thinking it's the best way to honor the loved one. In some cases, the calls are from scam artists. In other cases, the heirs or estate may have no legal obligation for the debts. All calls from creditors should be referred to an attorney or the personal representative.
Bereaved families can also be targets for everything from online phishing attempts to high-pressure sales tactics. Grief can also lead to impulsive decisions about giving away personal effects or even moving out of the family home. "Don't act until you understand the process. Don't make promises," Simpson said.
The process of becoming informed can start with the wealth of online information. Simpson said an article published by Consumer Reports contains a good breakdown of what needs to be done in the first days, weeks and months after a loss. The article is available at: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/10/what-to-do-when-a-loved-one-dies/index.htm