Turning chaos into control after a loved one’s death

Serial entrepreneur Susan Alpert captured the good life with her husband of 46 years, Larry. She had a great family and a successful career, including running several multimillion dollar companies.

“After a fairy-tale wedding, we lived ‘happily ever after’ – as happy as real-life gets –except, of course, that’s not really the end of the story,” says Alpert, author of “Driving Solo,” (www.susanalpertconsulting.com). “Ten months after my husband was diagnosed with leukemia, I lost him – along with my passion and ability to focus on a purpose for living.”

She was overwhelmed with the amount of financial, legal, civic and personal paper work necessary for settling the present and for planning the future. For two years, Alpert says, she was a shell of the happy person she used to be. Despite her business savvy, she had initially experienced major difficulty in navigating her personal finances.

“I sat with a cosmic void in me which I had no idea how to fill; then, it suddenly came to me,” she says. “What does one do to handle the practical aspects of settling the estate after the loss of a loved one? Who do you notify and when? What papers do you need to file, and which documents do you need to amend? How do you untangle the pieces, and what do you do with them once there’s some order? How do you tend to business when you’re in a fog of grief?”

Each year, approximately 1.2 million Americans lose their spouses. Alpert decided she would help these survivors. She offers these tips for handling the immediate aftermath of a spouse’s death.

• Define your workspace. Establish a workplace where you will deal with the paperwork, phone calls, etc. If you have an office or guest room, either is a good choice. Do not use your living room, kitchen or bedroom – the places where you live. Your work space will be focused on the past, and your living space should be devoted to the present. Supply your workspace with stamps and envelopes, stapler, paper clips, file cabinet, etc.

• Keep a contact binder near your telephone to record the dates, names, numbers, and relevant notes regarding all phone conversations. This contact book is an essential resource that you will use often, and a great time-saver. This chronological listing makes it easy to identify at a glance with whom you spoke and when. Dedicate this binder to matters pertaining solely to the business aspects of your loss.

• Non-family notifications to make immediately: You will need to notify your lawyer, accountant, financial advisor, banking institutions and the Social Security Administration to advise them of the situation. Keep records of your calls in your contact binder. Make certain you ask what you must do to follow through. Have them repeat it. When possible, get it in writing. An e-mail or fax is as good as a hard copy.

• Keep your receipts!: While it may be the farthest thing from your mind now, many of the expenses associated with this process can be reimbursed via the estate or itemized and deducted on your tax return. These include costs associated with documentation (e.g., photocopying, postage, and mileage) as well as records and receipts relating to funeral expenses. Later, you can check with your legal and tax advisors for current rules and regulations, and to discuss whether you qualify for these write-offs.


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