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Life Change To-Do Lists

Life changes--such as getting married, divorced, having a child, or facing widowhood--require more than the subsequent emotional adjustment. These milestones also signal the need to take stock financially and make any necessary adjustments.

Marriage

  • Have the money talk. Sit down and set financial goals--do you want to save for a new house? Have five kids? Decide if you're going to pool your assets or maintain separate share draft/checking or savings accounts.
  • Corral credit. Exchange credit reports and take a financial inventory. Focus on cleaning up any credit problems and curtailing future debt.
  • Make name change notifications. Make a list of agencies to notify if you're changing your name, including credit card issuers, the Social Security Administration (www.ssa.gov), the motor vehicle department, and the U.S. Passport Office.
  • Create or update your wills and powers of attorney.
  • Check your insurance. Review your auto, health, property, disability, personal liability, and life insurance coverage. Update beneficiaries on your policies, your IRAs (individual retirement accounts), and other investments.

Divorce

  • Educate yourself. Go through financial accounts and figure out where the money is. Pull credit reports to see if there are any credit cards or loans that you don't know about.
  • Collect information. Before your first visit to an attorney, make copies of all financial records, including statements from financial institutions and brokerage companies, tax returns for the past two or three years, mortgage, copies of financial statements on file at any financial institutions, insurance, safe deposit boxes, wills, and trusts.
  • Establish credit. Open and fund a share draft/checking and savings account in your own name. Get a credit card in your own name and manage it carefully.
  • Update wills and beneficiaries.
  • Separate credit accounts. Debt incurred in a joint account will follow both spouses after the divorce. Talk to your lawyer about how to best close joint accounts and limit your liability.
  • Maintain insurance coverage. During separation you'll still be covered under your spouse's health insurance, but once you're divorced, health insurance must be specified
  • Contact income providers. Notify old employers, pension fund administrators, and financial institutions holding IRAs or other retirement income accounts. Each may have a different beneficiary. If the deceased received Social Security benefits, notify the Social Security Administration as soon as possible, since the estate will have to pay back money received after the death. Check with a certified public accountant or tax preparation service to see if there are tax considerations that need attention.
  • Contact life and health insurance providers. Insurance companies will distribute money to the beneficiary listed on the policy. Don't cancel health insurance until all outstanding bills have been paid.

Expecting a new baby

  • Understand your finances. If you're planning on moving, buying a bigger car, or want to quit work to raise the baby, you'll need to create a budget that allows you to forecast where you will be financially.
  • Ensure coverage. Visit your employee benefits department to find out what your policy covers,and how much time you have to add a new baby or adopted child to your policy. Research and understand other policies at work relating to such things as maternity or family leave, and flex spending accounts.
  • Create or update your wills. Besides instructions about how the estate should be distributed, wills also should include the name of whomever the parents have chosen as their child's guardian. Parents also may wish to appoint a different person to be the guardian of the child's money.

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