Why you need an emotional insurance policy

Posted by on July 19, 2011 @ 9:14 am in Personal finance

Many of us do a pretty good job of getting insurance on all the usual suspects: homes, health, cars, life. But I recently came to think about another kind of insurance—what we should do to help our loved ones prepare emotionally to take over our financial decision-making.

In many cases, we’re talking about women. And while many women already handle family finances, some may delegate financial matters to someone else. When this happens, unfortunately, there can be a heavy emotional price to pay after a major life event.

Two recent experiences brought this into focus for me. Following my father’s death, my mother was faced with how to deal with their brokerage account assets. While the account was held jointly, it had always been my father’s “hobby” that came in handy when paying for exciting trips. Watching my mother—an extremely confident and successful woman—get progressively worn down and overwhelmed by this process made me wonder if her involvement earlier would have helped alleviate some of the stress.

The second example also involves a mother, this time the mother of a colleague whose father had passed away. In her case, the father supported the family while the mother stayed at home to raise the family. My colleague’s father always gave his wife cash to run the household. After his death, his wife was overwhelmed by all the financial decisions she had to make. Fortunately, my colleague is a financial planning professional and was in the position to step in and help. How many of us are that lucky, though?

Too often, this is a time when people feel as though they have to make decisions quickly or are unsure as to whether or not they have enough money. Not surprisingly, this makes people vulnerable to less-than-scrupulous service providers and/or inappropriate investment products. (For more on this, please read Greed doesn’t take a holiday by my fellow blogger Ellen Rinaldi.)

So ask yourselves if you can anticipate how the people you leave behind will feel about the financial decisions they inherit. Prepared? Overwhelmed? Even if they don’t master all the details, put an “insurance” plan in place to at least minimize the emotional toll these decisions will take. My suggestion would be to make sure that either people are prepared to make these decisions, or that they have a trusted family member or advisor to guide them. While there may be some initial resistance, the peace of mind it will bring will be worth the insurance “premium.”

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