Trouble Paying the Bills

Dear Marie:

I have been on my own for a year now. My husband died last year. We were married 52 wonderful years. He was the love of my life and I miss him so much. My Tom did all the finances for us. I know I should have taken an interest in what was going on but you have to understand, I was raised in a time when men took care of all these things.

I know how to do the basics because when he was off at war I had to pay all the bills. But that was a long time ago and I know things have changed. We never had an accountant or financial person. Like I said, Tom did it all. Now he is gone and I need some help. How do I go about finding someone in the community to help me with my finances?

 -- Need Help with Finances in Halifax, Nova Scotia


Dear Need Help:

I'm very sorry that you have lost your husband of 52 years. I know it's very trying to go through life without him by your side. And congratulations on asking for help. So many people in your situation try to do it all alone, only to find out much later that they should have gotten help. It can be a daunting challenge to handle finances even if you have been doing them a long time.

One of the very first things you have to do is decide what type of financial person you need. Are you looking for a bookkeeper, an accountant, a financial advisor, or all three? You can get the answer to these questions by deciding how much of your finances you want to handle on your own. You may only need someone to file your taxes or to do your investing.

Next, go to a few of your friends and neighbors and others in the community who you trust. Ask them who they work with and why. I'm saying start here because hiring someone based on referrals increases the chance that the person is reputable and right for you.

Ask your referral sources lots of questions, such as how their person gets paid. Are they on a fee basis? Do they pay a percentage fee from each transaction? Or do they pay fees periodically?

Once you have gathered referrals, go home and check them out with the regulating agencies in the state for the industry. See if they are in good standing with their professional associations or if they have had complaints. If there have been complaints, were they resolved?

Narrow your list to at least the top five or six. Call the top three and set up appointments to interview them. Be sure to take someone with you to your first meeting. This will help you feel more comfortable when it comes to asking questions and the other person might think of questions not on your list.

Follow your instincts when interviewing prospective people or companies. Ask the questions on your list and any questions that come up. If you leave the appointment and think of more questions, call them back and ask.

Be sure to ask what type of agreement you are required to sign before agreeing to work with the person. Get a copy of it and review it. If there are questions concerning the agreement, ask for clarification.

When you have had all of your questions answered by at least three prospective referrals put it aside for a week or so. This lets the information sink in and helps you not make rash decisions. After about a week, more if needed, go back and review the information you have gathered and pick your financial advisor.