Book Review: Managing Alone: Your Trusted Advisors’ Guide to Surviving the Death of Your Spouse

My husband wasn’t too pleased when he saw this title lying on my bedside table. (He warned me that he’s seen me re-reading Agatha Christie’s lately starting after he increased his life insurance coverage and he has left an envelope to be opened by the police in the event of his death from “acute gastric enteritis” or if he commits suicide.) I pointed out that it didn’t say which spouse and discretely removed a few Post-it notes from books citing Datura and other “untraceable alkaloids.” Despite this family disharmony, I finished reading Managing Alone and would like to share my review of the book.


Title:
Managing Alone: Your trusted advisors’ guide to surviving the death of your spouse

Authors:
Jennifer Black and Janet Baccarani.

Both authors are CFPs working in Ontario. It appears that they self-published this book–perhaps in part to give to their clients as an educational tool?

Tone

This book is very easy to read. The tone is conversational and kind.

Each of the 10 chapters tells the story of a fictional couple with a different financial profile. Some examples include:

  • One couple are highly successful both financially and personally with adult children;
  • Another couple have a very modest income with all of their profits being re-invested in their growing small business;
  • Another couple has a stay-at-home parent and a working parent who is moderately successful financially.

In most cases, the death of one partner radically changes the life of the survivor. Some couples had their finances well planned, others did not.

Despite the sombre subject matter the authors carefully end each personal anecdote on a positive note: Widows and widowers re-marry or find new passions in life; families heal; children mature and find happiness.

What Topics are Covered in Managing Alone?

After each gentle narrative, different types of financial problems and plans are discussed.

Topics include

  • Setting up a trust to protect assets in the event of a re-marriage in later life
  • What to do with a successful small business when the key partner dies
  • What government benefits are available to widows/widowers and orphans
  • What to consider when selling a home and buying a smaller one
  • Establishing credit and a personal financial history
  • What does an Executor have to do
  • Questions to ask when choosing various kinds of advisors
  • What everyone should do, no matter how young, to prepare in advance for an unexpected death (joint bank accounts; insurance; power of attorney; wills; joint ownership of the home; designating beneficiaries; etc.)

Other topics are also covered.

All of the topics are discussed at a fairly high level. There are not a lot of details for completing various tasks or hands on examples.

In some cases, I think the purpose was to get the reader thinking “how would I handle that?” and to encourage them to do further research if they don’t know the answer.

Who is the Target Audience for This Book?

This book seems to be aimed at people with little or no financial planning background or experience. It serves as an introduction to the types of tasks that should be accomplished and decisions that should be made to deal with money and death.

Who is NOT the Target Audience for Managing Alone?

If you are older and have personally dealt with the death/s of friends or relatives there is likely little here that will surprise you. If you’ve already applied for CPP survivor benefits for a relative, handled a funeral, or acted as an Executor, you probably will find this book too simple.

For example, the book provides a case study of a gentleman who might want to create a trust to protect his property and investment assets to ensure they pass on to his children and grandchildren even if he re-marries. Very few actual details, however, are provided about how to set up that type of trust, who to ask for help with it, how it works, what the annual fees might be, etc. It is more an introduction of a concept than a “how to” article.

Would I Buy the Book?

No. I borrowed it from the library. It was interesting to read but I would not turn to it again in the future.

Would I Recommend the Book?

If I had friends or relatives who were really repulsed by the entire topic of planning for mortality and who in particular needed to make plans I might suggest they read this book. (For example, a single parent with young children who has a high risk of being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness; a couple with high risk careers and young children with no guardians or wills.) It might provide an opening to discuss how several simple steps, such as designating beneficiaries and holding assets jointly, could save a great deal of trouble in the future.

What Did I Personally Take Away from This Book?

Although I didn’t learn anything much new, I did get a timely reminder to

  • update our power of attorneys for personal care
  • teach our children where the financial records are kept (in case both my husband and I should die at the same time)
  • double check the Beneficiary designations are correctly reported for our newest investments (the forms were sent in but were they input correctly?)

Also, remember “Never be worth more to someone dead than alive.” Read Agatha Christie for additional details on this topic.


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