Collect Financial & Estate Documents
Gather your income tax returns, a list of assets and liabilities, retirement and investment accounts, stock options, the will and so on, if you haven't already.
Settle the Estate
Generally, you have nine months from the date of death of your loved one in which to settle their estate. Usually it's good advice to have an estate planning attorney, working with your financial planner, review the will and other estate documents, and handle any legal aspects of the settlement.
Unfortunately, some victims — particularly younger ones — may not have had a will. That means the probate court will decide to whom their estate will be distributed. You'll also need to file an income-tax return on behalf of the deceased.
Make Your Own Life Plans
In time, you'll begin to think about your own future. That means taking a long-term financial view. Many financial advisers recommend waiting at least a year before making major decisions. When you do, you'll want to:
- Create a new financial plan for your needs.
- Create a new estate plan specifically for you.
- Define your own financial goals.
- Explore your career or job options, including retirement.
- Re-examine your investments.
- Consider moving.
Don't Necessarily Pay Off the Mortgage
It's often tempting to pay off an existing mortgage or even pay cash for a new home, particularly when resources such as life insurance benefits are available. However, as long as interest rates remain low it's often better to keep the money in more liquid investments, such as those aimed for college education or retirement, rather than tie it up in a residence.
Continue to Save for Your Own Retirement
Retirement should be a priority, even over things like funding your children's education. Your kids will find a way to pay for college, but no one else is going to help you out for retirement.
Women especially need to pay attention to their retirement needs because they typically live longer than men, have smaller nest eggs than men and tend to sacrifice their own needs to those of others.
At this stage, it is likely time to roll over assets from your loved one's IRAs and qualified retirement plans into your own IRA. However, other strategies may be more appropriate for your situation, so consult with an expert in this area before making an irrevocable decision.
Develop Your Own Investment Plan
Only after you have regained some control of your life, and in particular your financial life, should you consider readjusting your investment portfolio tailored for your goals and needs for the long-term. It also may be time to determine what to do long-term with the death benefits and other lump sum payments you've parked temporarily in low-risk accounts.