Losing a spouse, much less planning for it, is a subject women and men tend to avoid. After all, this is one of the most devastating events anyone can experience. But like all difficult things, ignoring the inevitable is unlikely to do you any favors. Because while some people plan and some don’t, there are often surprises – arguably more for women when you consider the fact that the vast majority of them will outlive their husbands. A healthier approach, perhaps, is to take your time and work through the things you can expect in widowhood. Doing so now might help during what is likely to be an inherently difficult time for your family.
WORTH REFLECTING UPON
Women, on average, find themselves widowed in their 50s. That could mean 10, 20, maybe even 30 years of life without their spouse by their side. Of surviving women, 53% say they and their spouse had done no financial planning in case one of them passed away. Furthermore, only about 14% of women were involved in making financial decisions before their husbands died, which could result in some surprises in widowhood. Here’s what we mean.
The question now becomes: How can women think through all this and make the best of what’s to come? Because while losing a spouse is both likely and painful, it does not mean you should have to give up the life you envision for yourself. Through open dialogue, solid planning and ongoing support, you can indeed cope and eventually thrive.
PREPARE BEFORE THE LOSS
Planning for widowhood helps you avoid making hasty or uninformed decisions when it happens. There are many steps you can take, and a good chance you’ll uncover others along the way. The more steps you take now, the more financially, physically and emotionally intact you will emerge after a difficult time.
Talk: Make it a habit to discuss finances and accounts with your spouse – regularly. After just one or two times, you will begin developing a solid plan as a team. Involve your financial advisor as topics and tasks become complex.
Tell others: Along with your advisor, share your plan with your adult children (if you have any), the executor of your wills and perhaps a close friend or two.
Create a repository: Include account numbers and passwords, security codes and PIN numbers, key contacts, location of birth and marriage certificates, divorce papers, vehicle titles, mortgage documents, life insurance policies, retirement plans, stock certificates and any other critical information. Be sure to store all this sensitive data in a secure place, perhaps an encrypted drive or a safe deposit box.
Consolidate: Managing multiple accounts, especially ones of relatively small value, can be tedious. Consider parking everything in one place. Not only will it be easier to manage, but you’ll be able to see your financial big picture.
Stay current: Update wills, powers of attorney, healthcare directives and beneficiaries. Ensure accounts are in both your names and titled properly. You will glide past many surprises by doing so.
Maximize Social Security: Talk with your advisor about the claiming strategy options you’ll have as a survivor, including any dependents you may have. You’ll want to maximize every source of income, and Social Security is an important one.
Facing and sorting through the emotions and potential financial fallout of widowhood can be incredibly overwhelming. So take time for yourself and consider putting things on hold while you gather enough emotional strength and support to move forward.
Your financial advisor can be one of those sources of support, especially since there are steps new widows should take almost immediately. Filing for survivor’s Social Security benefits, obtaining death certificates, filing as beneficiary for a spouse’s retirement accounts and getting permission to access any separate accounts. Though, of course, it’s a good idea to understand how to access all important accounts, including the passwords to online accounts.
To determine what can and cannot be put on hold, speak briefly with your attorney, accountant and financial advisor. Once you’re ready for more in-depth guidance and action, you can re-engage.
THE VALUE OF YOU
You are not alone. Other women have gone through what you might experience and stand ready to lend their guidance. And if they can heal, so can you. Here are a few self-care reminders.
Reach out: Staying connected with loved ones, letting them know how you’re doing and asking for help could get you through the darker days.
Keep moving AND resting: If you don’t already have one, an exercise routine produces endorphins that can lift your spirits (baby steps are perfectly fine). And as hard as it might be, try to get enough sleep.
Explore long-term care: Considering 80% of women will be on their own toward the end of their lives, it’s never too soon to plan accordingly for your later years.
The inevitable is not insurmountable. By accepting widowhood as likely and developing a plan, you can help better navigate your future and feel more empowered over time. It will take work. But if you start now, you’ll have your spouse, family, friends and professional advisors to help you see a clear way forward for when you need it the most.
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