A Widow's Guide to Financial Decisions
Nothing can prepare you for losing your spouse. Grief affects each of us uniquely, but as if to add insult to injury – at a time you are least prepared to respond - the world seems to demand rapid response to a barrage of critical questions – financial and otherwise. This is usually a terrible time to be making big decisions, especially if they really can wait.
Here are some helpful ideas to consider if you have been recently widowed (or you know someone who has), plus proactive steps to take if you’re reading this in more normalized times.
If you’re a recent widow
Don't Make Big Financial Decisions
When you’re experiencing grief, it affects your ability to make rational decisions regarding your financial interests. Even small choices can feel overwhelming, let alone the big issues. Delay any important decisions that can wait.
Focus On Matters That Are Urgent
Putting long-term plans on hold also helps create space to take care of the essentials, such as making funeral arrangements, managing immediate expenses, and simply taking care of yourself and your dependents. Make sure you’ve got enough cash flow available to make daily purchases and pay your bills so these don’t become a source of added stress. Gather critical paperwork, such as any pre-planned funeral arrangements and multiple copies of the death certificate.
Lean On Your Support Group
You are not alone. For practical and emotional support, turn to friends, family, clergy and similar relationships. For financial and legal paperwork, contact professionals such as your Certified Financial PlannerTM (CFP®), Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and estate attorney. Focus on relationships that help relieve your burden and avoid those that sap your limited energy. Be cautious about forming new relationships at this time as your instincts may not serve you well.
When You’re Ready
Assess Where You're At
Once you feel ready to take on some important decisions, slow and steady remains the way to go. It can be helpful and cleansing to start by gathering up your documents and resources; wills and trusts, insurance policies, financial statements, personal identification, mortgages, retirement benefits, safety deposit box contents, business paperwork, military service records, club memberships … Whether on paper or online, take stock of what you’ve got.
Continue reaching out to others to address your evolving needs. Turn to your financial advisor for assistance in organizing your investment accounts, shifting ownerships as needed, closing or consolidating unnecessary ones, and sorting through your spouse’s retirement and work benefits. Contact your spouse’s employers to learn more. Work with your estate attorney for settling the estate. Speak with your accountant about the necessary tax filings. Contact creditors about resolving any outstanding debts. Firm up your ongoing banking and bill payment routines.
Shift Your Focus Outward
With lifetime transitions, each of us is on our own schedule. But eventually, the time will come when you’re ready to circle back to those larger decisions you put on hold. Again, don’t go it alone. Your CFP can help you take a fresh look at your financial planning: your investment and spending policies, your risk management and estate plans. You also may start to look at your larger wealth interests, such as your will, trusts, overall insurance coverage and more. Whether you determine everything is fine or adjustments are warranted, wait until you’re ready to make these sorts of decisions deliberately instead of in haste.
Pre-planning can save a lot of heartache …
If you’re reading this piece during normal times, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to pre-plan for when one or both of you pass away. Pre-planning can simplify or potentially eliminate some of the most agonizing decisions surviving family members must face during one of the worst times in their lives. Your wills, trusts, powers of attorney, living wills (advance directives) and pre-planned funeral arrangements may be among the most loving gifts you can give one another as a couple, especially if you have dependent children. If these key estate planning materials are not yet in place, there’s no better day than today to give each other the gift of advance planning.
How else can we help? When you’re ready to talk, please know we will be here to listen.