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By Christine Benz | 02-29-2012 01:00 PM

A Financial Roadmap for Surviving Spouses

Having a plan of action can help you more effectively execute financial matters during an overwhelming and emotional time, says advisor Stacy Francis.

Christine Benz: Hi, I'm Christine Benz for Morningstar.

Losing a spouse can be a taxing emotionally as well as financially. Here to share some financial tips for surviving spouses is Stacy Francis. She is president of Francis Financial in New York City.

Stacy, thank you so much for being here.

Stacy Francis: Thank you. I'm excited to be here.

Benz: Stacy, in your practice, you work a lot with widows, and widowers to a lesser extent, and I'm wondering if you can share some tips for people who are in this situation. Obviously, they've got a lot going on emotionally, but they also have some financial matters to attend to. What are the key first steps that surviving spouses should take in the wake of the death of a spouse?

Francis: One of the most important steps is really gathering all the important papers, and those papers might include your will, trust, any deeds, business agreements, tax returns, bank accounts, it could be earning statements, definitely a birth and marriage certificate, your Social Security number, any loans or other important papers that would pertain to your loved ones' life affairs. And with that, making sure that you get death certificates. And you will get typically get death certificates directly from the funeral director. I know in my experience I thought maybe five or six would be sufficient. In the end, you may find similar to myself when a loved one passed away that you may need 15 or even 20 death certificates to make sure that all the accounts get transferred properly and Social Security is notified, all of them require death certificates, too.

Benz: OK. Then in terms of handling the estate, what should surviving spouses know about that to the extent that there were estate planning documents in place?

Francis: Well, it's definitely important to really execute the will, and that is to know what the will says. So, make sure that you get a copy of the will, of course, before the person dies. Hopefully, you've had that conversation so that you know where the will is located and that you can easily access that. And at the same time, work with the lawyer who drafted the will. That is the ideal, is to go back to that lawyer who drafted the will, because they themselves have a relationship with possibly yourself and your loved one and can help you go through this very, very tough time, and to be honest, it can be a very confusing and overwhelming time, too.

Benz: Now, what if there is no will or perhaps the attorney who drafted the will is no longer working. What would you advice in those situations?

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