The start of a new year is a good time to get your finances in order. And it's none too soon. 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 strikes.
Ten years after Karen Mendelsohn and her husband, Harold, were married, he went to take a run and never came back.
Mendelsohn says, "He suffered a sudden heart attack. It was horrible. And they couldn't revive him."
The second blow-neither she nor their two young children were named as the beneficiaries on his pension. He had neglected to switch it from his parents, and when Karen asked...
Karen said, "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 says, "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.
Lob says, "What if somebody gets disabled. What if one of them dies?"
Consumer Reports confirms that "money stumble" is common with married couples. Its survey found with 70 percent, only one spouse knew key details about their accounts.
Stanger says, "And if you are over 60 and have adult children, it's time to let them know where that important information is as well."
Other "money stumbles"-50 percent of homeowners have enough insurance to cover full replacement of personal property at today's prices.
And more than 70 percent didn't have at least three months of living expenses set aside in case of job loss or illness.
Stanger says, "You may not solve everything all at once, 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 says she hopes telling her story will encourage others to get their finances in order.
In additon to regularly updating estate-planning documents, Consumer Reports recommends designating a file cabinet or safety deposit box for your will, insurance policies, and a list of all important account and investment information.