5 Things You Should Not Do if Recently Widowed
You don’t need us to tell you that widowhood is a difficult time. The reality is that losing a spouse is one of the hardest things a married person will ever go through.
Unfortunately, it’s also a time that makes people vulnerable to poor financial decisions or even financial trouble. In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common mistakes that widows make in the aftermath of their loss and how they can be avoided.
For more, please download our free eBook series, The Most Overlooked Retirement Risk Facing Women, which covers a number of important aspects of widowhood, both personally and financially.
- Going too fast…
Financial planning can be stressful at the best of times, and for people experiencing the worst of times it can be overwhelming. The weeks and months following the death of a spouse are generally not good for one’s judgment. Even financial professionals can feel distracted and lost – and these are people who generally know what to do in these situations.
As such, there’s a huge temptation to just power through this period in the hopes that it will help. Unfortunately, rapid financial decision-making often backfires.
Avoid mistakes by remembering that you don’t have to do everything at once. Don’t rush: you’ve just experienced an immense life change, so find your feet before you find the exits.
Selling the house and moving to Maui might feel like a simple answer to a very complicated set of emotional and practical considerations, but it might just present another problem (or several). So, whether you want to sell your home, go on an expensive vacation, or make sweeping changes to your lifestyle, budget, or investments – wait.
Most Overlooked Retirement Risk For Women: Widowhood
All of these decisions might be prudent, but your ability to assess that won’t be at its peak right now.
Many things can wait – and should.
- …Or going too slow
On the other hand, putting everything off might be just as tempting. But this can also be a recipe for disaster. Generally speaking, you or a loved one will need to address a few critical items fairly rapidly.
Consider tackling these issues early on:
- Funeral arrangements and how to pay for them
- Access to cash for your everyday living expenses
- Access to savings for emergencies
- Reviewing and possibly updating your health insurance plan
- Applying for survivor or other benefits
- Locating and re-titling your accounts
You might want to enlist the help of a trusted loved one to deal with these items: just make sure that whatever is relevant and pressing to you gets done.
Addressing these issues will help ensure that you have the means to financially face the immediate aftermath of your loss with your assets and health coverage in place.
- Relying on relatives for a financial plan
Family can be invaluable, both in times of great joy (like a new baby) and in times of great sadness. If you have people around you who can help, reach out and don’t be afraid to delegate responsibilities, like obtaining those death certificates or fielding calls from the funeral home.
Loved ones can also become important resources for the future: you may start getting advice about financial planning, what you should do with your time, and any number of other issues. These informal advisors often have your very best interests at heart, but keep in mind that they might not be qualified to offer objective guidance based on the specifics of your situation. Again, don’t rush in implementing the tips you receive.
Further, if you feel that you could benefit from more guidance, consider seeking out a professional advisor who can help you assess your financial situation and develop a prudent plan for the next phase of your life.
With a professional you’ll encounter more objective tools of the trade, like our favorite risk-assessment tool, Riskalyze, and a compassionate and clear-headed view of the various options that might be available to you.
- Helping everyone else first
For many widows, the chance to help grieving family members is a welcome distraction from their own grief. Some widows are eager to offer up life insurance payouts and other monies to their loved ones who might benefit from it.
This is a wonderful and loving impulse. However, remember times of grief are not conducive to good financial planning.
What seems like a lot of money right now might barely help you make ends meet over the long run, and an unexpected emergency, job loss, or illness can throw a wrench even in a carefully thought-out plan.
This is especially critical if you’re in or near retirement, as your opportunities to replenish your savings are diminishing every year.
So, rather than making others your financial priority, make a note of who needs what and then put your money aside and wait. If your loved ones could still benefit from your financial help in a year, you can always revisit the issue at that point, when the dust has settled and your own financial needs are clearer.
- Feeling “wrong” about your feelings
This isn’t a financial issue, but it’s very important.
Between insurance claims, asset transfers, and the simple task of getting into some kind of new rhythm in daily life, it’s easy to forget yourself or even to surprise yourself with your reactions. Grieving people often find it difficult to eat properly, sleep enough, or do the activities that have always brought them joy. Some widows are intensely angry at their spouse, others worry about how they’ll ever get along on their own.
None of these are wrong.
Grief is intensely personal and everyone experiences it in their own way. You might not find the willingness to go back to your favorite hobby for quite some time, and that’s okay. You might be frustrated when your family is around and scared when they aren’t. That’s okay, too.
Whatever you do, please do not let the reality of grief – and the way it affects you personally –be an additional source of stress. Your feelings are yours to have, and if you start to wonder if you’ll ever be able to get through it, consider reaching out to trusted family members or a qualified professional therapist.
Even being able to share your thoughts and feelings out loud can help. But sometimes it doesn’t. The “right” path simply doesn’t exist – the only thing out there is the right path for you.
If you’re looking for more advice, read this.
Our free eBook series, The Most Overlooked Retirement Risk Facing Women, covers financial planning for the possibility of widowhood, the aftermath of loss, and some of the critical precautions that widows need to take in reorienting their lives. It has actionable and clear advice intended to help anyone cope with this most challenging of experiences.
Most Overlooked Retirement Risk For Women: Widowhood