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'When life goes sideways' – how to prepare for the death of a spouse

Key Points
  • When Chanel Reynolds found out her husband, Jose, had been hit by a car while out cycling, she says she was caught unprepared.
  • She didn't know things that had big financial implications, as well as things like struggling to find the password for the storage of wedding and baby photos.
  • She turned her experience into action. Here is her checklist to be prepared for life's emergencies.
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It's something you hope will never happen: the phone call that changes everything.

When Chanel Reynolds found out her husband, Jose, had been hit by a car while out cycling, it was not only an emotional shock — she also wasn't fully equipped to handle all of life's details.

That meant "everything from not having the password to his phone to call some of his family members to not knowing where half of our documentation was," she told CNBC on Tuesday. "I wasn't prepared, at all."

Reynolds, whose husband died after a week in a coma, wasn't a "blissfully unaware" spouse, either.

"Like many households, we split responsibilities. The 50 percent of things I could find or had answers to were very, very helpful," she said on "Power Lunch."

Then, there was the other 50 percent — from things that had big financial implications to struggles finding the password for the storage of wedding and baby photos.

"The stuff I didn't know and things that could have taken maybe five seconds to write down, took maybe hours or dozens of hours or days or maybe some things were never found," said Reynolds.

Chanel Reynolds and her husband, Jose Hernando
Source: Chanel Reynolds

That was 10 years ago. These days, Reynolds is hoping to help others who may find themselves in a similar situation. In 2013, she founded the online resource, "Get Your Shit Together," and she now has a new book out, "What Matters Most."

She said when she was walking the halls of the hospital, she realized so many were going through the same thing.

"These kind of accidents impact so many of us. And if it hasn't yet, it might or you work with someone or you know someone where life goes sideways, and you're not ready at all," she said.

That's why she suggests having an emergency plan in place. "Preparing is so important," said Reynolds.

Here is her advice:

  • Create a will, living will and power of attorney
  • Research and purchase the appropriate life insurance policy
  • Have financial information in order, like budgets
  • Create a savings plan to cover emergencies
  • Keep track of online accounts and passwords
  • Make sure there is a list of emergency contacts

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.