WE ARE living in uncertain times. With over 4,000 cases in Malaysia (at the time of writing), the Covid-19 situation doesn’t seem to be improving just yet.
While the nation stays at home due to the movement control order (MCO), unfortunately there is still the risk of contracting this highly contagious virus, which could lead to hospitalisation, or worse still, death.
While the statistics show that only 20% of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia have moderate to severe symptoms, and the death rate is less than 2%, it is prudent to mentally equip yourself with the knowledge of what to do when you face a loss in your family.
The death of a spouse is possibly one of the most devastating events that could occur to anyone in this period, particularly if you have a family with young kids.
As if dealing with grief isn’t bad enough in the midst of this pandemic, families of the deceased are trapped in quarantine, unable to touch and comfort each other, living in dread that another family member could fall ill.
During this circumstance, there’s the additional stress of sorting out finances and making sure that all your late spouse’s estate is distributed according to his or her wishes.
Being an unpopular topic of conversation among couples, many are caught off-guard, not knowing where to begin or who to turn to.
In this article, I will be covering the steps on how to go about recovering your spouse’s assets, and some do’s and don’ts surrounding this topic.
The first thing you’d want to do, once you have seen to all the initial obligations, is to locate where all your spouse’s assets are so that you can start to get things moving.
If you and your spouse have had this discussion before, have engaged a licensed financial advisor or have been managing the family’s wealth together, then you wouldn’t have a problem locating these assets. If this is not the case, you might need to do some investigating.
The first step is to reach out to your spouse’s financial service professionals.
This could be his or her accountant, insurance agents, bankers, lawyers or a professional will-writer if any.
Make a list of all the assets that your spouse had under his or her name.
The next step is to figure out how to go about recovering these assets.
For most types of assets, there will be legal procedures and paperwork that are required to transfer these assets to the respective beneficiaries’ names.
If your spouse has a will in place, you would have to apply for a grant of probate to execute this will according to your spouse’s instructions.
If your spouse did not draw up a will or had drawn up a will with no named executor, you will need to apply for a letter of administration to begin to manage your late spouse’s assets.
Either way, this application will take three to six months, so you would want to start this process as soon as possible to get things going.
Some other assets that you can look into without having to go through the legalities of estate administration are your spouse’s insurance claims, EPF savings transfer, and any employer-related payouts.
For insurance payouts, contact your spouse’s insurance agent or insurance company to find out about the process to initiate these claims from the company.
For your spouse’s EPF claims, you can contact EPF directly to begin the procedure of transferring assets to your spouse’s named beneficiaries.
If your spouse was employed at the time of his or her death, you will want to check in with the employer for claims regarding your spouse’s life insurance policy with the company.
If your spouse was receiving a pension from his or her company, you may want to check in with them to find out the entitlements for you and your family.
These last three assets should be relatively straightforward to settle.
Once you have taken care of these financial assets, you should practice precaution when dealing with any money-related issues. An emotional trauma this big can leave you vulnerable to making poor decisions, so give yourself time to heal before tackling major financial decisions.
Some things to be aware of:
> Refrain from big financial investments
You may have gotten most of the initial bout of grieving out of the way, however, you are likely still in a vulnerable state.
Stay away from making investment decisions for a year at least, especially ones that you do not comprehend fully.
Instead, I would suggest that you put your money into a fix deposit account.
This way, you have peace of mind that your money is in a safe and reliable investment while you take your time to weigh your options for your next financial steps.
> Be wary about romance
When it comes to matters of the heart, to each their own.
However, when you’ve recently become the beneficiary of your spouse’s multiple assets, combined with the fact that you are in an emotionally vulnerable state, you may be highly suggestable to poor financial decisions which you may regret deeply later.
This is not to say that you should always be second-guessing your relationships and living in suspicion.
However, it is advisable to evaluate if your relationships, especially the newer ones, are based on their interest in you as a person, rather than your inheritance.
To be safe, keep money out of all your relationships as long as you can.
If you come across any red flags about your partner’s financial habits, don’t hesitate to perform a credit check to safeguard yourself. This can be done via a credit checking service.
If remarriage is unavoidable, keep all your assets and accounts separate until you have spent a significant amount of time understanding your partner’s money management habits.
Get a written holistic financial plan done and determine how to invest any life insurance proceeds or estate assets you receive.
This would be the proper time to review your assets and liabilities and understand how you’ll meet your short-term financial spending and long-term financial goals.
Establish a budget by looking at your monthly income, routine living expenses and make adjustments as needed.
All these can be done most effectively by getting a holistic financial plan done by a licensed financial advisor.
Is your spouse prepared for your passing?
It is a topic that no couple is eager to talk about.
However, making adequate preparations for one’s passing is important and necessary to ensure that your spouse and family needn’t go through unnecessary stress and financial constraints if something unfortunate were to happen to one of you.
Invest some time into reviewing your personal financial management and develop a holistic financial plan with a licensed financial advisor.
Revisit your will if you have one. If you don’t have one, it is time that you get one drafted to ensure that your loved ones are not left in a lurch should anything happen to you.
When you draft your will, make sure that you appoint a guardian and trustee for your children, and update your beneficiary information on your EPF savings, life insurance, and other policies under your name.
Keep your spouse informed of all your assets, and ensure that they know who to make contact with if something were to happen to you.
If you’re able to, work together with your licensed financial advisor to document not just all your financial assets, but all your investment habits and tips that you have learned as you built your portfolio.
This will serve as a useful guideline for your spouse to make good investment choices when you are gone, thus alleviating the stress of decision-making and ensuring the longevity of your financial legacy.
While the journey of investment and money management always stems from the objective of financial independence, we must not forget the possible curveballs that life may throw our way.
As much as we would like to plan for a sunny future, a tragedy doesn’t discriminate. As we spend more time in our homes this season, perhaps it is a good moment to reflect on your family’s well-being and have this difficult conversation with your spouse.
After all, the best legacy you can leave your spouse upon your passing is peace of mind to get through a difficult time.
Yap Ming Hui (firstname.lastname@example.org) is thrilled that his mission to empower every Malaysian with a roadmap to financial freedom has finally come to fruition with the release of a free DIY roadmap tool on the iWealth mobile app. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.
Did you find this article insightful?
93% readers found this article insightful