Though the Salamones had laid the groundwork for some of their long-term goals, including opening 529 college savings accounts for their three children, they never had a formal financial plan.
John didn't have a will when he died, which initially made it difficult for MaryEllen to access the money he had left behind. It's a lesson that remains with her to this day and one that she passes on to young families.
"It is so much more difficult for a family when the spouse passes away if there is not a will," Salamone said.
John had handled the family's finances. Without him, MaryEllen grappled with handling leftover assets and her husband's insurance proceeds. She also wanted to get her kids' lives as back to normal as was possible.
Everything changed when her neighbor Frank Astorino, president of the Astorino Financial Group in Fairfield, New Jersey, ran into her at her son's soccer practice in 2002. He had asked if he could help her coach and whether his son could also play.
"In the course of conversation, he says, 'I'm a financial planner,'" Salamone said. "I was like, wow. I actually need a financial planner."