Financial Planning Tips For Widows

by: Russ Thornton

Losing your spouse is a terrible, emotional blow that no one is ever prepared for in any sense.

Even if your spouse has been living with a terminal condition, it can still be overwhelming when you have to pick up the pieces and move on with your life, and finances in particular can be overwhelming. Here’s what to do to figure out how to pay the bills.

You Have To Inform Your Spouse’s Creditors

The first step is ensuring that your spouse’s death is on file. Failing to alert creditors to your spouse’s death can lead to problems ranging from suddenly canceled credit cards to attempted fraud if your spouse’s identity is stolen. And yes, that can happen after death. Financial planning for widows needs to start with protecting the widow, and making this first step.

Find Your Trusted Person

A trusted person can be a family member, or it can be a professional like a financial planner. Regardless, find a person who you can trust on financial matters, and ask them if they can help you with financial questions and situations. A second pair of eyes can help you spot discrepancies in bills, difficulties in certain situations, and other problems, and a second pair of hands can support you as you do the hard work of unraveling your spouse’s finances.

Be Smart, Not Timid

Women tend to invest conservatively while men tend to invest aggressively, which means that they balance each other out as a couple. Losing that aggressive component can, believe it or not, put you at financial risk, For example, it’s possible to invest too conservatively and outlive your savings! Look at your finances and evaluate your risk carefully, so you’re still covered in case of the worst.

Hold Off On The Big Decisions

You may well be in a situation where you need to sell off unnecessary assets like a car or even move to a smaller home. But, in most situations, you shouldn’t be doing this while planning a funeral or getting other major emotional events in order. It can also be emotionally overwhelming; selling the home you’ve lived in for decades can be emotionally trying even if you’re not dealing with a spouse that has passed away. You’ll be taking a chance that your seller won’t attempt to take advantage of the situation, or you may price the asset just to get rid of it instead of getting the full financial value out of it. If at all possible, delay these sales until you can make them with a clear head.

Get Your Spouse’s Papers In Order

Often the toughest task, financially, is getting all the papers in order; you need to get a sense of your spouse’s assets and debts. If they’re not well organized, you may have to get that in shape. But often it can provide some with a sense of closure, and it’ll give you a stronger overall view of your financial situation.

Don’t Write A Check To Anybody Without Official Documentation

You’d think that those dealing with an emotional setback such as a spouse’s death would be left alone by criminals. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Fraudsters of all types will look carefully at obituaries, and then try to, for example, pose as your insurance agent and tell you you owe thousands of dollars on your spouse’s life insurance policy. If somebody calls claiming you owe a debt of some sort, ask for their contact information so you can look up the debt, or ask them to send you a bill first. Be especially wary of high-pressure situations; if somebody is demanding money from you right now, they probably have no right to it.

You Assume Pension And Retirement Fund Obligations

When your spouse passes away, often a big question is what happens to the assets. Assets exclusively in your spouse’s name that are passed on to you may come with a set of obligations as well. For example, if you inherit a 401(k), you might be required to withdraw money out of that account under tax law, whether you need it or not. You may be eligible for specific benefits under your spouse’s pension. There are a whole string of obligations you may need to fulfill.

You Have To Refile Applications For Joint Accounts

Essentially, if you or your spouse opened a line of credit during your marriage, it’s a joint line of credit. But this also means that any accounts in both your names will generally need to be reapplied for. If not, your credit score can be damaged and there may be other problems with your finances. Make a list of joint accounts, and contact each to find out what’s necessary to keep them open.

Financial planning for widows isn’t easy. But done right, it can ensure that a hard time emotionally doesn’t become a hard time financially.