Paycheck Chronicles

Lessons Learned Working With The Survivor Relations Team


One of the biggest privileges I’ve had since I’ve been at USAA was working hand in hand with our Survivor Relations Team — the SRT.

This team has a unique mission. SRT acts as a single point of contact for members who have lost a loved one. Our team members help transfer accounts, update policies and, when appropriate, set up consultations with an advisor or planner.

That’s where I entered the picture.

I’ve had perhaps thousands of conversations with our members over the years, but few have been as meaningful and difficult as those with spouses or children who had recently suffered a tremendous loss. This month, when deciding to highlight SRT’s efforts, I reflected on my experience and the lessons I learned.

Here are four recurring themes that stood out while I partnered with the SRT. They may help you as you chart the road ahead or face a significant loss.

Take A Strategic Pause

Many of the survivors I spoke to were, understandably, going through the motions. They may have sounded OK, but they probably really weren’t ready to make well-thought-out decisions. I remember several situations when a few weeks after my initial conversation with a survivor, he or she could not recall a point we had discussed in detail. If you or someone you love is dealing with a recent loss, avoid making big decisions until you’ve had time to adjust and begin coping.

Delaying Decisions Can Create Discord

Over the years, I worked with many families who intended to complete their estate planning but didn’t take the time. Wills, powers of attorney, beneficiary updates and letters of instruction provide guidance and can help avoid chaos. Taking care of them now may help prevent confusion, headaches and potential infighting.

The Little Stuff Is Big

Recently, my wife and I were talking with our kids and discussing who would inherit a vase we bought in Italy several years ago. Ultimately, we decided to hold some sort of drawing to prevent any arguments. Too often when talking with survivors, I’ve heard about conflict and heartache over items that could have been avoided with a little direction.

Make Money A Team Game

Every couple divides responsibilities differently, and that’s not necessarily bad. During many of my SRT counseling sessions, it was clear that the deceased spouse was the family’s chief financial officer. If that’s how it is in your family, make sure the other partner has at least a basic understanding of your financial situation so that he or she isn’t left clueless.

I’m lucky to be part of an organization whose concern for its members includes the SRT team. Based on my experience working with them, I’d didn’t want to miss out on the chance to encourage you to prepare your own plan.

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