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Book Review: Death’s Red Tape

Our expert, Bill Harris, reviews this book about dealing with the financial, legal, and personal struggles of losing a loved one.

By William Harris, CFP

I’ve heard a lot of great things about Mark Colgan’s writing and practice expertise for working with widows. As a fellow author, Certified Financial Planner™ professional (CFP®), and an owner of a niche practice that also focuses on widows, I was excited to read and write a review on Mark’s latest book, Death’s Red Tape.

Bill Harris is a Retirement Management Advisor® (RMA®), a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner (CFP®), a Master Elite Ed Slott Advisor, and author of ‘Inheriting Your Spouse’s IRA’. He is President of WH Cornerstone Investments, a financial advisory firm located in Kingston, MA. Learn more at

Bill Harris

I was extremely pleased with Death’s Red Tape. In it, Mark tackles the subject of navigating the legal, financial, and personal transitions when your beloved partner dies.

The biggest takeaway – the loss of a loved one often results with an urgency to get administrative tasks done and over with but speeding through the process is dangerous. Haste can result with missteps and overlooked opportunities. Take one step at a time and partner with a trusted financial planner who can carefully guide you through the process.

The evidence Mark gives the reader is factual and personal, which is my favorite kind of read. So many curios exist in this book, for example, did you know you can donate your deceased partner’s excess medical equipment (; or reduce unsolicited mail; or, that some mortgage lenders forgive loans for deceased veterans.

This book takes a reader on a journey by walking step-by-step through real life examples and providing helpful tools. The author’s willingness to be candid and vulnerable throughout allows for a relatable self-help manual for dealing with a disastrous situation.

The book is broken into 13 chapters, an easy-to-reference glossary and additional resources that any reader will find helpful.

Chapters are as follows:

  1. Take Care of Immediate Concerns 
  2. Collect Survivor Benefits 
  3. Get Organized and Sort Through the Paperwork 
  4. Review Assets 
  5. Pay the Bills 
  6. Process and Manage the Estate 
  7. Understand Your IRA Distribution Options 
  8. Attend to Personal Affairs 
  9. Avoid Identity Theft 
  10. Estate Planning Essentials 
  11. The Soft Side of Your Estate Plan 
  12. Prearrange your Funeral 
  13. Say Yes to Life

While the chapter titles are clear and self-explanatory, each chapter ends with a “to-do” list. The to-do list is such a great gift to the reader. As a CFP, I will use these checklists with my own clients.

Anyone going through the trauma of death will most definitely experience brain fog. Grief and loss affect the brain and body in many ways. They can cause changes in memory, behavior, sleep, and body functions. It can also lead to cognitive effects. With these undesirable symptoms on the horizon, the checklists are an essential guardrail.

Mark Colgan’s Death’s Red Tape is different because it covers an enormous amount of ground while seamlessly tying all these ideas back into the central message: you are not alone, and life continues. Colgan writes, “Life may bring us unfair challenges, it can also bring unexpected blessings of which we never dreamed.”

Whether you’ve experienced this traumatic event or you’re an advisor striving to help your clients, it’s possible this might become your most highlighted and dog-eared reference book Every page is packed with usable gems of advice. It is a highly recommended read.

About William Harris, CFP®, RMA®

Bill Harris is a Retirement Management Advisor (RMA®), a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER practitioner (CFP®), a Master Elite Ed Slott Advisor, and author of Inheriting Your Spouse’s IRA: The Widow's Guide to Keeping More of Her Assets. He is president of WH Cornerstone Investments, a financial advisory firm located in Massachusetts. Learn more at

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