When Two Becomes One
Financial Considerations for Managing Life After the Loss of Your Spouse
Whether the passing is sudden or somewhat expected, losing a husband at any age is traumatic and can raise many questions and worries about the future. The term “widow” conjures up thoughts of loneliness, yet thousands of women suddenly find themselves facing this reality every year. It is a major transition in life, and too often important decisions and responsibilities are set on hold or sometimes forgotten altogether.
When facing the loss of a spouse, it is important to make sure you have the support and guidance needed to move forward, especially when it comes to personal financial management. There are several good points to keep in mind to help ensure things are kept on track during this emotional time.
Make sure you have a team of trusted advisors to help you during this time. Determine your immediate, medium, and longer-term needs. Some decisions will be made earlier based on savings and cash flow, while others may require more time. Both spouses should always know where key documents are housed, and if possible, have discussed their final wishes.
Cash Flow Now and Later
Managing cash flow is essential. Time may feel warped when you are grieving–a week can seem like an eternity, and it is easy to lose track of due dates. Without awareness or a system to take charge of your cash flow and credit score, emotional distress has the potential to lead to financial turmoil.
Take control of your personal finances in a series of manageable steps:
- Use online banking to schedule automatic bill payment for any regular expenses. This will give you much-needed time to take care of other issues.
- When a bill arrives, simply write the due date on the outside envelope and gather them in one place–a file, bin, or drawer.
- Schedule a weekly appointment with yourself to attend to bill paying.
- Determine how to modify the names on your accounts and other relevant details if necessary.
Ensure Adequate Cash On-Hand
Money in your spouse's name may not be available until the estate is settled and the related debts are paid. Watch out for phony bills and other charges that are no longer required. If in doubt, ask a trusted friend or your financial advisor to help you before you make the payment. -
Just when we need clarity and executive skills to organize information and make important decisions, the stress of change can actually decrease our coping and cognitive abilities. Experts consider this a normal stress response to change.
Before making decisions and commitments, consider meeting with a financial professional who has the training and understands the emotional complexities of truly helping someone through this type of transaction. The right advisor can help you organize your plan of action, prioritize your needs and help give you a clear overview of all your options.
Go At Your Own Pace
Women in particular feel they ‘should’ be doing something before they actually feel ready. During this time, if you make any investment decisions, make sure they are low risk, low/no cost and easy to get out of if you change your mind.
Settling the Estate
Even a modest estate has legal components. Many find it helpful to hire an estate and probate attorney to take care of all legal forms, and work with an accountant to file the estate tax returns. You can locate a lawyer with the proper expertise by contacting your state bar association. However, it's critical to have the documents in order first so a lawyer can accurately assess your situation.
Manage Expectations Early In the Process
Sometimes the estate settlement process is confusing and a source of conflict within families. Expectations can run wild. It is a good idea to manage expectations by letting everyone know you won't know all the facts and amounts until you have more time to consult with the attorney.
It is key to evaluate your immediate situation, with or without the help of advisors, to make sure your bills are paid on time, and that you have a steady source of income as you recover from loss.
As time passes, energy replaces fatigue, clarity replaces confusion, and possibilities replace limitations. This is when you know you are ready to focus on future planning.
Once you have moved through the early stages of your transition and have put most of the financial decisions behind you, it may be time to begin reimagining your life. It may be difficult to envision a future without your partner, but try to think of it as an exploration of new possibilities, inspirations and realities that can shape the next chapter of your life.
The important thing to keep in mind is that when this type of transition hits hard and often suddenly, key financial decisions and timelines cannot always wait for a grieving period to pass. Remember, you are not alone. Your friends, family and advisors are there to help navigate the process and ensure your best interests and quality of life is secure.