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Losing your primary breadwinner: How to prepare financially

The death of a family member can be devastating, especially if he or she passed unexpectedly. And if that family member was the primary source of income for your immediate household, the financial implications are just as taxing.


Talking about death can seem awkward or taboo, but it's a conversation that needs to happen. Losing someone is never easy; it doesn’t matter if you’re a one-income or two-income household, or have dependents and debts. You’ll feel more at ease knowing that a plan is in place and everyone is on the same page. And, if you’re faced with planning funeral arrangements in the midst of beginning to grieve, worrying about your financial future may be the furthest thing from your mind.


Get started with these tips below today — so your tomorrow is taken care of.


Start an emergency fund.


If you don’t have one already, it is smart to keep six months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund. This is a best practice for generally everyone, but if you’re in a situation in which your primary breadwinner gets seriously ill, loses his or her job, or passes away unexpectedly, you’ll be grateful you have the security of savings to access without worry, so you can focus on what’s more important.


Update or write your will(s).


If you and/or your spouse do not have a will currently written, now’s the time to write them out. This is so that if you or your spouse dies, there won’t be complications settling your estate (especially if you have a blended family). It’s a tough topic to think about, but you’re saving your closest loved ones a lot of headaches — and giving them even more peace of mind.


If you’re not sure where to start, consider seeking help from an attorney. Or, if you’re more of a DIY’er, begin by creating a document that outlines your assets, your beneficiaries, and the executor (the person in charge of making sure your wishes are carried out) of your will.


Have an alternate financial plan in place.


If the primary breadwinner dies, you should be prepared to alter your expenses and spending. Here are some questions to consider:


  • What is the payout of your loved one’s life insurance policy?

  • Will other household members be able to work?

  • What will be the estimated funeral expenses? (The average funeral costs are around $10,000.)

  • Does the deceased have any debts or loans that need to be paid promptly?

  • What are some current monthly expenses (i.e.,  mortgage, car note) that can be reduced or paid off?


Create a file of “just in case” information.  


We live in the age of passwords and two-factor authentications, so having a tangible file, portfolio, or binder (and maybe a digital copy as backup, too) of need-to-know information will make the unexpected that much easier. (Tip: entrust a close family member or friend with the location of your compiled information, in the event you and your spouse are both involved in an accident.) Here are some things to consider adding to yours:


  • Birth certificates, marriage license (if applicable), social security cards

  • Wills and trusts

  • Copies of insurance policies and policy numbers where applicable, like health insurance and auto insurance

  • Banking information (as well as account numbers and passwords)

  • List of monthly bills (as well as account numbers and passwords)

  • Usernames and passwords for email addresses, social media accounts, business websites, and more

  • Contact list of family members, financial advisors, business associates, and others

  • Funeral plans that have been pre-arranged, burial wishes, etc.


Purchase a life insurance policy.

Life insurance policies are meant to replace your income in case an unexpected loss occurs and the family can’t support themselves. Life insurance isn’t just for the 1 in 5 families with a stay-at-home parent, or a single-income household — it’s for every kind of family, individual, and circumstance. If you’re single, your policy would leave an inheritance for your designated beneficiary and ensure you don’t leave any student loans or other debts behind. If you’re a homeowner, your policy can pay off your mortgage and provide shelter for those you love, rent-free.


There are two different kinds of life insurance policies you can buy — term life insurance, and permanent (whole) life insurance. Term policies are more flexible in length, with more options to choose from at more affordable rates. Typically, it is best to buy a policy that is valued at least ten times your annual salary. You also get the option to renew after your choice of a 10-year, 15-year, 20-year, and 30-year term — but you can always switch to a permanent plan if you’d prefer more long-term coverage. If you die during the coverage period, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free lump sum.


A permanent plan lasts your whole life, for as long as you keep making payments. Your rates and benefit payouts are locked in at those terms, and you have the ability to borrow money against your policy if you need it, though the death benefit is reduced. If you have a disabled dependent or are a high-income earner who has maxed out your 401(k), IRA, and Roth IRA options, consider a permanent life insurance plan.


It’s not the most exciting conversation to have, but it will be one of the most important ones. Preparing for the unexpected is tough, but you’ll be so relieved when you tackle the above to-dos. Now go on — enjoy life!

Tags: Life, Care, Life Insurance

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