Planning for the Inevitable

Ten topics to Discuss on “Contingency Day.”

And they lived happily ever after… or did they?

It happens in fairy tales, but in real life, every marriage ends someday. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, and 35% end in widowhood, usually with the death of the husband. On average, women will be on their own financially for one-third of their adult lives. It’s important to stay abreast of your finances – the traumatic time of widowhood or divorce is not the time to scramble to catch up on your financial knowledge.

  • Every woman (and every man) must plan for the inevitable. Someday one of them will end up alone. What if that day were tomorrow?
  • Every couple should have a contingency day once a year to talk about these things.
  • Contingency day planning is important for parents and adult children as well (If the thought of a contingency day discussion is painful, consider engaging a facilitator to help you the first time).

Here are ten topics for discussion on contingency day

1. How much is there?

Review your financial statements, look at insurance policies, consider mutual funds, discuss employer death benefits and retirement plans. Add up the amount of cash and investments that would be there if either spouse were to die tomorrow.

2. Is it enough?

How much would the surviving spouse need to live on? How much cash would be needed immediately? Look at continuing needs, consider the education of children, and don’t forget the costs of illness or disability.

3. Where is it invested?

Discuss each asset that you own, and make sure that both spouses understand the nature of the investment, how much income it produces, what the long-range growth potential is, how safe the investment is, and the investment’s marketability.

4. What should be sold?

Examine each investment critically. List criteria that indicate the right time to sell. Too often, a widow is left with investments that her husband made (or vice versa), and she doesn’t know what he would have done with them if he were still alive. Find out now.

5. Can I manage it myself?

Perhaps only one spouse has managed the business or real estate. If the other spouse wants to hold the investment after her husband’s death, or if the investment will be difficult to sell, she should begin to learn the necessary management skills.

6. Who should I turn to for advice?

Which key advisors know the most about your financial and legal affairs? Who would you trust to advise your spouse after your death? Both spouses should meet and know their advisors and feel comfortable with them.

7. Update all financial records.

I am sometimes engaged to find a missing asset or locate or reconstruct financial records that have disappeared. You shouldn’t have to solve mysteries or research difficult questions in times of emotional stress. Gather financial data and update records now, not later.

8. Revise your will or trust.

Your will ensures that your estate passes to others in accordance with your wishes. Make sure that your will says what you want it to say. Will the assets be tied up in a confusing cobweb of trusts? Is the trustee someone that your spouse likes and trusts?

9. Discuss funeral arrangements.

Many of us still say “If I die” rather than “When I die.” Facing death is difficult, but it is a courageous thing to do. If funeral arrangements are discussed and agreed upon, the survivor will feel so much more at ease during that difficult time.

10. Design your financial education program for the year.

A regular program of financial education lets you prepare for the day you will be solely responsible for your family finances. Increase your financial education now through reading and attending courses offered by colleges and non-profit organizations such as the Women’s Institute for Financial Education.


3 thoughts on “Planning for the Inevitable”

  1. I am so sad. I cannot control my tears. I am sorry that the hospital chose to withhold nourishment and fluids. I am sorry that they did not cooperate with the cancer center to transfer David to skilled nursing since he had been off his feet several weeks and needed physical therapy (on his feet) and not in bed. I regret the CoVid19 “precautions” and the disadvantages that they caused.

    I just don’t have the emotional wherewithal to deal with my husband’s loss. For he was “actively living” and not “actively dying” (like the hospital portrayed).

    David and I were married 36 years and he was the sole source of income SSDI.
    I HAVE NO INCOME & no other resources presently. I cannot even go to Social Security as they have been closed. I just don’t know…I live in Santa Rosa, CA

    1. First of all, I am so sorry for your loss and for all the circumstances surrounding it. That must have been hard to go through.
      You can contact Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213. At their website,, they say that the wait times are typically shorter Wed, Thu and Fri, and later in the day. And at the website, you can complete an application for benefits. So ask a friend to sit with you to help you stay on track as you do this, so you don’t get overwhelmed. And dial 211 and ask them for resources for lower-cost counseling services — you don’t have to go through this alone.

  2. I recently found your website while preparing to offer a workshop for couples. Your post does a great job of covering things. I wouls add that more can be said about legacy for children or other family members, and more about death benefit insurance. Loved it. Looking forward to more on this topic.

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