“I’d love to rest my weary head on somebody’s shoulder; I hate to grow older... all by myself."
—from "All By Myself" as performed by Eric Carmen
Recently uncoupled women often evolve through three stages after the death of a spouse. The acronym G.A.P., which stands for Grief, Adaptation and Perseverance, accurately describes the stages of transition that many women experience. During this time there is a significant disruption in normal lifestyle and familiar living patterns.
The first stage is grieving. Most recently widowed women are far too unsettled to tackle any major financial issues immediately. In some cases, women are living alone again for the first time in decades and find themselves feeling literally unmoored. Not only are they grieving the loss of a loved one, they are challenged on multiple fronts with new responsibilities.
Everyone is different, but in general, we recommend no major life changes be made immediately following the death of a spouse. However, some basic financial issues must be addressed and if a woman has already established a relationship with a trusted advisor prior to her husband's passing, she can rely on the advisor to handle most of these tasks, like changing names on accounts and filing for benefits from pensions and life insurance policies. If not, it's often during this period that widows hire an advisor.
The second stage is adjustment. After a time, many women begin a period of financial and emotional adaptation. They may still grieve, but they become more comfortable thinking about selling their home or moving near family. Some begin to take a significant interest in their financial future at this juncture. Most understand intuitively that their money must last a lifetime, and they become more engaged about discussing with their advisor things like how their portfolio can provide additional income. They also usually reach a comfort level with living on only one Social Security check, as well as living alone on a budget.
Lastly, women in transition must persevere. The recognition that they alone are responsible for their financial future is a significant awakening, one that many women acknowledge in various ways by year two. About 700,000 women become widowed annually in the U.S. Many rely on their church and other structured groups for social outlets. Not all want to remarry. As people are living longer, many women will find themselves living alone for upwards of 20 years. Smart couples prepare for such an eventuality before the death of a spouse.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC®, AIF®, author of the syndicated economic column “Arbor Outlook,” is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850.608.6121 – www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.