Consumer Reports - Get 2013 finances in order

January 8, 2013

In a just-released survey, Consumer Reports found a surprising number of people have overlooked some of the most basic financial precautions. That can be devastating, especially when disaster or tragedy strikes.

Ten years after Karen Mendelsohn and her husband, Harold, were married, he went for a run and never came back.

"He suffered a sudden heart attack. It was horrible. And they couldn't revive him," Karen says.

The second blow, neither Karen nor their two young children were named as the beneficiaries on his pension. He'd neglected to switch it from his parents. And when Karen asked them...

"They said 'No.' They said, 'If our son left us as the beneficiaries, he wanted us to have the money.' It breaks my heart."

Consumer Reports says financial oversights are all too common.

Tobie Stanger of Consumer Reports told us: "Our survey found that in the last five years, 86% of respondents had not checked or updated important estate documents, including wills and beneficiary designations."

Financial planner Gayle Lob says another frequent mistake couples make is having only one person in charge of the finances.

"What if somebody gets disabled?" Lob says. "What if one of them dies?"

Consumer Reports' survey found with 70% of couples, only one spouse knew key details about their accounts.

" if you are over 60 and have adult children," Stanger adds, "it's time to let them know where that important information is as well."

Other "money stumbles" include: 50 % of homeowners did not have enough insurance to cover full replacement of personal property at today's prices. More than 70% didn't have at least 3 months of living expenses set aside in case of job loss or illness.

"You may not solve everything all at once," according to Stanger, "but just taking those first simple steps may save you and your family a lot of heartache down the road."

As for Karen, it took a lawsuit to get her husband's death benefits. She hopes telling her story will encourage others to get their finances in order.

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