Practical Planning Helps Widows Prepare For Loss

Written by Rachel DeCarolis in collaboration with Lexicon Content Development on .

Planning to become a widow sounds counterintuitive, not to mention incredibly difficult to imagine. But ask any widow or widower and they’ll tell you that losing a spouse is hands-down one of life’s greatest challenges. Even for those who knew they would likely outlive their spouse, the reality wasn’t anything they could have emotionally prepared for.

Take Katherine* for example. Katherine and Brian were married for nearly four decades before Brian entered hospice care at home. As Brian’s health deteriorated, Katherine felt overwhelmed with her growing list of responsibilities as Brian’s primary caregiver. She was also struggling to keep up with the daily tasks of life like grocery shopping, laundry, and caring for their pets. Brian had been the spouse that handled their investment accounts and paid the bills, and Katherine did not have the time or energy to give their finances the attention that she would have liked.

Katherine was tired, and immediately following Brian’s passing, she longed for more time with him, regardless of how hard it had been on her mentally and physically. Although she was surrounded by family and friends before and during the funeral, that time felt like a fog in the midst of her grief. Suddenly, Katherine found herself wondering about her future. Was she going to be okay?

The reality for many women is that they will outlive their spouse; and even though preparing emotionally for the change may not be possible, being prepared for the practical parts of this loss can allow the surviving spouse to focus on processing their loss.

Get a Clear View of Your Full Financial Picture

If you are not the primary financial manager of your household or are unclear on what your assets and liabilities are, you’ll need to discuss your full financial picture with your spouse while they are healthy and well enough to do so. Taking inventory of all your resources is a critical first step to creating a plan that will help you make meaningful decisions after loss.

Collect & Organize Your Paperwork

Organizing paperwork will make it tremendously easier for you to find important documents when you need them. Be sure to store copies of your estate plan, financial records (including online access information), and records related to real estate and any other property holdings. Our clients have access to an online dashboard that allows for storage of digital copies of important files so they can be accessed from anywhere. There are also many services, such as Everplans, that provide an online organization platform for a fee.

Share Access to All Joint Accounts

As part of a properly executed estate plan, ensure that you have access to joint and personal accounts so that you have the proper permissions to draw on assets when needed.

Establish an Emergency Fund and Ensure Access to Cash

Worrying about cash flow in the wake of loss can cause a lot of undue stress. You can be prepared by having adequate cash on hand to cover your potential loss of income and any expenses that will arise from your spouse’s passing (funeral costs, attorney fees, etc.). Besides planning on how you will cover your immediate bills, you’ll want to make sure you have a robust emergency fund to fall back on should unexpected costs come up.

Confirm Beneficiary Designations

Naming beneficiaries for your life insurance and retirement plans will help ensure that payments are not held up by unnecessary paperwork or the probate process. Review these selections on a regular basis to make sure they are in line with your current wishes.

Transfer Airline Miles or Other Rewards Points

While this may not seem like a top priority, transferring points or travel perks is almost impossible to do after a spouse has passed.

Enjoy the Time You Have Left

One of the most difficult times in life is losing a loved one, especially your life partner, your beloved spouse, but even a little preparedness can provide comfort and peace of mind to both you and your loved one.

Enjoy the moments you have together, though they might not be as easy or fun as they once were. Like Katherine, you will likely look back on these last memories with longing as you move into your life as a new widow.

Enlist Support

Thinking clearly, making good decisions, and handling yourself well socially are challenging in the best of times. But when who you are becomes destabilized due to a life-altering event such as losing your spouse, you need the guidance of someone who understand the terrain you’re in, and a safe space to experience your transition.

If you or a loved one have recently lost a spouse or anticipate losing a loved one in the future, we encourage you to reach out by booking an initial conversation. We have a host of resources to help you navigate this difficult transition into widowhood as well as a team of dedicated professionals ready to help you make sense of your new situation.

*Names have been changed.