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My Spouse Just Passed Away; What I Wish I Knew. 6 Financial Steps to Take

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On this episode of the Retire Once Show, Johnathan is joined by Joanna Horton, the COO of mForce Capital. As a financial advisor, Joanna has helped clients work through the passing of a spouse, but when it happened to her, it brought with it a completely different perspective. In this interview, Joanna shares her experience of when her husband Jeff suddenly passed away. She also shares advice on what she wished she knew before it happened. Joanna also shares 6 important financial steps to take to make sure you are prepared if something happens to your spouse.

Read The Transcript

Hello and welcome to the Retire One Show. The show is designed to help you get to retirement, but most importantly, stay retired. I'm Yos Jonathan Rankin, and I'm the founder and CEO of the Wealth Management. Today is a very special episode. I had the opportunity to sit down with my good friend, Joanna Horton, who is financial advisor, as well as the COO of M Force Capital, and she's also a coach for people who have recently lost their spouse.

In the interview, Joanna shares her experience of suddenly losing her husband, Jeff, a little over a year ago, and she goes through six things that are very important to make sure you have in. Uh, just in case something were to happen, she shares her experience and some very useful advice and tips that will hopefully help you if you ever go through something similar.

So with that, this is my interview with Joanna Horton.

Nothing in this world can prepare anybody for the sudden passing of their. And I've seen it happen to so many clients over the years. Today I am lucky to be joined by Joanna Horton, who is the Chief Operating Officer at M Force Capital. She also runs the Hot Springs Village Division of M Force. Uh, prior to her current role, she was the director of Global Trading for Capital Institutional Services and is currently an adjunct professor at Dallas Baptist University.

She also has two children, Tristan and Jordan. And just over a year ago, her husband Jeff suddenly passed. Uh, I asked Joanna to be on the show to share her story and share some advice from the financial side of things that she's learned going through this experience. So, Joanna, thank you for being here.

Thank you for sharing your story with everybody. , I'm glad to be here. Thanks for having me. Now, I know for years you've been helping people who have gone through this and then outta nowhere you find yourself in their shoes, and I definitely want to pick your brain on that and how you help coach others.

But I want to take a step back and will do us favor. We tell us a little about you, a little bit about Jeff, your relationship and, and everything that. Okay, so a little bit about me and my background. Um, I've been in the business for over 30 years now. Um, started on an institutional trading desk, which I ran for 25 years, and then became a financial advisor about six years ago.

Um, during that time I also started teaching at Dallas Baptist University, where I teach corporate finance, international finance, and personal financial planning. I have two children. My daughter Jordan is 22 years old now. Um,  and she is a first year medical student at Texas Tech and my son is an engineer.

Great. And so what about Jeff? Tell us a little about you, Jeff, how long you guys were together and, oh gosh, how long were we together enough to change the world In used to Texas, which is where we were from. Um, but we know, we knew each other since, um, before kindergarten. Wow. And it's, um, small East Texas town.

Um, we grew up there and went K through 12 together. Our parents were friends, our moms worked together at the school. And so, um, yeah, I, I knew him my whole life. Wow. Um,  until, until a year ago. It's crazy to think, you know, as you know, I've got a son who's five, who's in kindergarten. It's crazy to think that right now somebody in his class might be the one that he ends up marrying in.

You know? It is crazy. A number of years. Uh, it, yes. I couldn't even think about that. We had, uh, one picture, um, at Jeff's service. Jeff and I playing in a sandbox before we went to kindergarten. Wow. So we had a whole life together. Yeah. That's, uh, that's a lot longer than most people's marriages, just even going through K through, uh, through 12 together.

So, you know, I know we're talking today about how you've helped other people who have lost their spouse suddenly, but that's what happened to you, uh, with Jeff. So will you tell us a little about what happened? . So it was a normal day. Like any other day I had been to work in Fort Worth. That was before we had the hot springs office.

So I was working in Fort Worth. Um, Jeff worked for the city of Dallas and um, he had come home and we had gone for a walk around the neighborhood, took the dog down to the fishing pier. Um, and then we came back into the house and just sitting at the table eating a cupcake and drinking coffee. My daughter had just left to go back to Alabama, cuz that's where she did her undergrad studies and.

He was just sitting there eating a cupcake and. . Um, I turned around to go into the house to get some dry socks, um, on my feet cuz we had gotten wet. And, um, , when I turned around I heard an awful noise and I thought, oh gosh, Jeff has just dropped something again. What kind of mess am I gonna have to clean up?

But when I turned around, um, it was actually him and he had fallen off. Um, this stool where he was sitting eating his coffee, um, I mean his cupcake and drinking his coffee, scrolling on his phone, and he was on the floor. Wow. And so immediately I did what everybody else would do. You know, I panicked for a, a split second and then realized, um, I'm the only person here, like you have to run and help as fast as you can.

So within a split second, you know, I was, I was screaming at him like you normally would, and then realized that he wasn't breathing and that, um, the situation was pretty dire. And so, um, I was trying to do CPR to the best of my ability and call my neighbor. Who had just moved in from California and she was an ER emergency, um, nurse.

And so within a couple minutes she was at my house performing cpr. But, um, the outcome was, you know, it it was what it was. Wow. That is, uh, that is still, I mean, you've told me the story before and every single time I just, I can see that whole situation playing out cuz it seems like you remember every single little detail about that day.

Every detail. And every detail. So obviously even before this happened to Jeff, I know you were working with a lot of other women or other people who've gone through this. Did you feel like you were prepared to go through this? I really did. And you know, one of the, the things that I realized, um, is that no matter how prepared you think you are, there's always something that you wish that you had planned for and been prepared for, um, that you didn't.

Um, that you didn't think of. And so, you know, for me it was, um, just assuming that, um, I knew I knew everything because I was the financial person in the family, but there was so much that I didn't know, um, from, you know, who to contact at Jeff's work. Um, and just, you know, all the little details and things that just come upon you within an instant.

Now you mentioned that, you know, you felt prepared. What did you, what did you have in place prior to Jeff passing? You know, did you, obviously a lot of the estate stuff, but what did you, what did you specifically have in place? So, um, I'm very much a planner and so I had, um, obviously I had my finances in place and, um, you know, knew that our beneficiaries were correct.

Jeff's beneficiaries were correct at his work. Um, I had, our wheels were intact. , you know, I knew, um, the passwords to our computers and those kind of things cuz I typically handled that for the family. Um, but then I found out quickly that there was a lot that I didn't know. Um, and I think that I shared with you, you know, just simple things like, um,  things that you, you think, that you've wrapped up that you haven't.

Like I went to trade in a vehicle when my daughter was going away to medical school and that particular title was only in Jeff's name. And so out of the blue, those kind of things hit you and they continue to hit you. So then you end up reliving that moment all over again. And that's, uh, obviously that's, I mean, it sounds like you relive that moment a lot, you know, especially, Things that come up and, you know, what did you learn through that experience that you wish you knew prior, that you, you know, maybe didn't set up?

Obviously you mentioned the, the car being in Jeff's name, but is there anything else that, you know, you wish you would've thought about before or, you know, the, if you could go back that you would've done differently? Yeah, and I, I think that, um,  credit life insurance was one of the things. And, and for you guys that don't know, um, if you have loans on your house or your automobile or a boat or something like that through the finance companies, um, they used to automatically put credit life insurance on there.

So if one person or the other. Past, um, that debt would be paid for and you wouldn't be responsible for it. But that's not a given anymore. And, um, that one particular car that I was talking about trading in didn't actually have credit life. So, um, some things that I had taken for granted, laws and rules and, and things had changed and I wish I'd just been more aware of those.

So, , you do a lot of coaching to other people who've gone through this and even to, um, just people who haven't. I mean, this is something that you are very passionate about and you always talk about six things that are important to have in place, uh, prior to anything happening, and I think this is very powerful and I wanna be able to share that.

But the first thing you talk about is making sure that you have a team in place. What does that mean when you talk about having a a team?  I, the importance of the team. I just cannot, um, tell you what that really means because you need to have people that you, um, personally trust whether, um, you know, it's your financial advisor, your cpa, your attorney, your estate, um, , you're a estate person, you're trustees, whatever, um, whatever is in your financial plan.

You need to make sure that all the professionals around you are people that you personally feel comfortable with. Lot of us, um, and the generation before us really relied heavily on the man of the house to take care of those things. And a lot of the ladies that I talk to and, and, and coach and teach, they don't necessarily have that relationship.

And so it is invaluable when you're going through this that you know that that team knows you, they understand you, they know that the desires of your spouse and yourself, and they've got your back. You know? Did you and Jeff, did you guys talk about. Beforehand. I mean, obviously you set up the estate plan, but did you actually have conversations about, Hey, if this happens, here's what you know, what to do, who to talk to?

Did you have those conversations prior? Um, I would say that that is one of the things that I did learn through this because like I said, I've known Jeff my entire life. Um, N no exaggeration my entire life and was married to him from the time we were 20 and, um, had been married to him until 51 when he passed away.

And there are still so many things that I wish that we had talked about. And of course we had talks along the way about, you know, when I die or if I die first, and those kind of things. But you don't necessarily take it serious and really dig into. Probably the way that you should. And so, um, I found myself, you know, and I don't know how to say this and I don't want it to be morbid, but as.

soon as they realized. Um, we got Jeff to the hospital that he had passed and there was no, you know, no bringing him back. I was at the hospital for less than five minutes when the doctor came back and said, we've been working on him since your house, and he's just gone. And then the next question, um, is, do you wanna donate organs?

And so, That's tough. Yeah, that's a really tough conversation in that moment. Um, but, you know, I wish it was something that I had talked to him about and had never really discussed it, you know? Yeah. That I'd, I would never even thought about that. Yeah. And so, um, even though, you know, on his license he hadn't marked being adult, um, organ donor, um, as a spouse you have the right okay to do that.

And, and so that is something that you're faced with automatically. . So having, having that team of people that commun that open line of communication is, is important. Have you also talk about the banking aspect and how important it is to, to have that in place? What do you mean when you talk about banking and, and understanding there?

So modern day is that a lot of people pay their bills online and we have it set up where, um, every month it comes in and the service just automatically pays it. So I think it's important that we understand, first of all where all the accounts are, um, and how they're titled. Are they in both of your names?

Are they joint accounts? Are they erring on death accounts? Those things are. Very important that you understand all of that, and then that you understand, um, which bills are gonna be paid automatically, which ones are gonna come in, you're gonna need to write checks for and handle because, um, you're not gonna be, um,  ready to face anything like that for quite some time.

And so you need to have in your mind a clear understanding. Does the water bill get paid automatically? Does the car get paid automatically? What are the passwords to these accounts? Um, and know where that information is easily accessible because if you have a great financial advisor, if you have a great support team around you, you're gonna trust them to help you through this time.

And when I talk about team of, of course I'm talking about, um, you know, the, the legal team, if you will, around you, the professionals around you, but also those, um, in your network, whether it be family or friends that you can rely heavily on, um, to help you with some of these day-to-day just chores that you normally don't even get a, a thought to, because all of a sudden they seem overwhelming.

Yeah, I can, I, I can imagine that having friends and family around for weeks or months at, you know, just yes, just to help out with random things was probably very helpful. Right. Um, you mentioned something there, and that ties into the third thing that you, you talked about, which was passwords. So how important is it to have to, to have a document or, you know, what do you usually recommend to some of the people that you coach when it comes to password manage?

So it, it depends on how tech savvy you are. There are systems and softwares that you can have on your system that will, you know, store your passwords for you. A lot of people aren't comfortable with that. Um, so, you know, get a black book that you write everything in or get, you know, any kind of paper. , you know where it's at that you can always update and just make sure that on a regular basis, that you've gone through it with your spouse and that no passwords have changed.

And if they have that, you've updated 'em. If you've added new accounts, um, of any sort that they've been added to the list. Um, because again, you're, you're not gonna be thinking about those kind of things. Yeah.  and then, well, that kind of ties into the fourth thing, which was personal property. And you had told a story about, uh, you had documents at a safe.

Will you share that story that you know, that I, I thought that was pretty insightful. So it's just one of those things that I didn't think through completely. But, um, so we live in East Texas and we own guns in Texas and my husband is avid hunter, and so we have a huge safe, um, in our safe room. And he, um, only he for whatever reason knew the code.

Like, I don't randomly go into the safe and decide that I'm gonna shoot, you know, my pistol on that day. But, um, so I, it's just one of the things I didn't know. . And so, but also in there, um, I had my jewelry and we had, you know, our passports and just things that you want to keep safe from any kind of weather event.

Whether there's, you know, a tornado that blows down the house, you know that what you need to get to is in that safe. And that safe is never going anywhere. They weigh thousands of pounds, you know, so anything that you're gonna need, your marriage license, passports, everything. My jewelry, they stay in the safe.

Jeff always opened the safe. It was just what he did. And so when it came time for me to get in the safe, I had no idea how to get in the safe. And honestly, if it hadn't been for my son, like standing there with him multiple times, just watching him key it in, we would've had no idea how to get in into. I was gonna ask if you had to hire someone to hack the safe, if that's even.

Tristan tried, um, several different codes. He's like, I know it's something like this cuz he had seen his dad punch it in so many times and then he finally got it. Oh, thank. Yeah. So what about other personal, I mean, I know that you, a lot of people ask at what point do you continue keeping clothes and other, like how do you handle some of that stuff, you know?

And I think that that is a case by case situation obviously, but I mean, . I didn't get rid of Jeff's things until I passed the year mark, and I know, uh, for whatever reason in my mind, that was the time that I felt like I could do it. And part of being able to do it, I wanted to be able to do it without crying.

you know, and I wanted to be able, be able to do it in a sensible way. Like where am I giving these things? Who is in need of these things? Is it the local church? Is it the Salvation Army? Is it the homeless? Like there's so many different piles that I had. Um, you know, this is gonna go to my nephews because Jeff and him went and duck cunning together and these are his duck calls and this is where he always kept them.

So these are going to my nephews, but these pants over here can go, you know, wherever. And so we. I, I just needed to be able to process it and be willing to let go of it. So for me, I didn't do it until after a year. Wow. Okay. That's, that's good to know. And I think that's good for anybody who's watching this that, you know, if that happens, it's okay to hold on to some things.

I think you hear some people say, no, you gotta, you know, just try to get rid of things. You know. How do you, how do you balance that part of it? What other people are telling you versus, you know, how you actually feel? Well, what I can say is that, , the majority of people by far have never experienced this.

So the, um, advice that they give you is just what they think they would do, not what they would actually do. And, and I really feel like that's one thing that I've learned through this, that I probably would have told somebody, um, something a lot different before I went through it than I did afterwards because, um, you have to do what is best for you and.

at the end of the day. , who cares how long it stays in there? You know, there's like one shirt that Jeff would wear. It's a big flannel shirt. I still have it. I won't get rid of it, but sometimes after your spouse dies, you just need to go in there and like smell the shirt and smell. I mean, I know which sounds crazy, but it's part of the healing process and it shouldn't be discounted by people.

It's very real. Oh, there's nothing wrong with that. You mentioned the, the fifth thing was un understanding insurance needs. And you talked a little bit about, um, you know, the, the credit insurance. But what about other insurance? How do you determine how much you need? How do you recommend that to people?

So it really, um, depends on your, your debt and your living, um, expenses and what it's gonna require for you to.  the best life that you can in the event that you lose somebody. And so for every person that's gonna be different, but it is something that you and your spouse need to talk through in detail, um, because there's so many things that change.

Um, and I think, I know one of the things that we're gonna talk about is income and how that's affected after a spouse dies. But, you know, all those things have to be thought through because the amount of money that you need is gonna change.  and then your goals of what you've planned for retirement all these time, all these years is also gonna change.

I mean, Jeff and I already had our motor home picked out and um, you know, we had highlighted our routes that we were gonna travel and, and all those things. And so what you thought would be your retirement life has just gotten blown up. So insurance is a big thing and. I think I told you once before, Jonathan, that the week before Jeff passed, we had just done insurance testing for, um, insurance policy with long-term care.

Mm-hmm. , um, attached to it because we both wanted to make sure that we had enough to cover long-term care in the event that we needed it, and both got a clean bill of health the week before, um, Jeff passed. So that was tough, but I'm saying that because, um, you know, now you're gonna be by yourself. In my case, I have two great children, but not everybody does, and so you have to think through.

What's gonna happen to me if I get sick? Who's gonna take care of me? Do I have enough money to bring somebody in to take care of me? Or am I gonna move to assisted living? What does that look like? And so those are serious conversations that you need to have and have a plan for before. , um, before something like this happens because once it does, it's probably too late to change any insurance needs.

That's very true. And that kind of ties into the last most important thing you mentioned the income plan. What do you mean by an having an income plan? Well, I, what I've learned, um, During all my teaching and helping other ladies with this is that, um, a lot of them feel like if their spouse passes that it's not gonna affect the amount of income that they have on a monthly basis, but the majority of the time it does.

We, um, , you know, we know that insurance, um, is just one small part of that piece of how they're going to sustain their life and the income is the rest of it. And so if you are married to a veteran, what do those survivor, um, rights look like? How much are you going to get, um, coming in every single month?

Is that gonna be cut in half or do you have full benefits? Or if your spouse had a pension, what does that look like? How much of that money are you gonna retain? Um, and so there's a number of things like that that you really need to pay close attention to. Um, and hopefully, you know, they do have a hundred percent survivor, but I would say the majority of people don't.

And, um, you just need to understand that. And, and that brings us to, you have put together this peace of mind checklist, and we're gonna make sure to link to that in the show description, so you could download that. But will you give us the 32nd commercial? What is this checklist? Uh, just a little bit. . So I think it's, um, the most important thing.

It is. You can just go line item, um, one at a time, discuss it with your spouse. Find these documents. Know where the will is, know where, um, your power of attorneys are located, know what accounts those are actually going to help you with. Write those things down. It will, um, give you an area to fill in, you know, all those account numbers that we talked about and passwords.

It'll talk about finding death, uh, not death certificates yet, but understanding how many death certificates you're gonna need, which is an enormous number by the way. Um,  you where, um, you know, birth certificates are, and passports and information to employers and 4 0 1  statements and all those things. Um, and you know, it basically it's just a guide to pull all that information together in one place.

So, um, when you're not in the right mind to think about it, you can point it to somebody else and say, here it. Perfect. That is very helpful and like I said, we'll make sure to link to that in the show description. I have one last question for you though. Uh, if you could boil everything down to the single most important thing that someone can do after losing their spouse, what would that most important thing be?

for me it was, um, cut yourself some slack, give yourself a break. I'm very driven and sometimes that's not a healthy thing and it's certainly not a healthy thing in this type of situation. And what I always tell people, sometimes the most important thing that you can do isn't financial. Um, it's emotional.

And that's really just understand that, um, take the amount of time that you. Don't make any major decisions, don't change your lifestyle. Don't do anything on a whim. Um, because at the end of the day, six months down the road, you more than likely would've made a different decision than you did, you know, six weeks after.

And so cut yourself some slack, take the as much time as you need, and, um, make decisions later because it'll be fine. Joanna, thank you so much for being here. I, I know this is very helpful cuz I'm, I'm sorry that you went through what you went through. I know it was just a horrible experience, but you've been able to help just a number of people as they've gone through something similar.

And so I, I know I thank you on behalf of them and behalf of everybody who's listened to or watched this. So thank you for sharing your story. Uh, it means a lot to me that you're joining us here, and we'll make sure to link to the checklist below as well as Joanna's contact information if you just wanna reach out.

If you're going through something similar or you just have questions, I know she's happy to, uh, to help with that. All right, Jonathan. Thanks for having me.

Registered Representative of Sanctuary Securities Inc. and Investment Advisor Representative of Sanctuary Advisors, LLC.– Securities offered through Sanctuary Securities, Inc., Member FINRA, SIPC. –  Advisory services offered through Sanctuary Advisors, LLC., an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. – Theorem Wealth Management is a DBA of Sanctuary Securities, Inc. and Sanctuary Advisors, LLC. This communication has not been reviewed for completeness or accuracy, does not necessarily reflect the views of Sanctuary Securities, Inc. or Sanctuary Advisors, LLC., and is not a recommendation or endorsement of any product, service, or issuer. Third party posts do not reflect the views of Theorem Wealth Management or Sanctuary Securities, Inc. or Sanctuary Advisors, LLC., and have not been reviewed for completeness and accuracy. All further communications from this representative must be sent from and received by johnathan@theoremwm.com. For additional information, please refer to one of the following consumer websites: www.FINRA.org, www.SIPC.org.

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