The following is a two-part series. Next week, we’ll consider the three phases of emotional recovery and financial adjustment for widows.
“At 65 years old, My mother, God rest her soul, Couldn't understand why the only man she had ever loved had been taken."
—from “Alone Again, Naturally” as performed by Gilbert O. Sullivan
There are 20 million widows living in the United States, and soon after the death of a spouse, the majority find themselves managing their finances alone for the first time in many years. And many will work with a financial advisor without a spouse participating for the first time as well.
Having advised dozens of women in this transition stage, it’s clear that most are very vulnerable. Above all, they want someone to listen and appreciate what they’re going through. Issues are both emotional and financial. Because of this, we normally suggest that recently widowed women slowly adjust to a new life and make no major financial changes for a year. They may, however, require immediate assistance changing the titles on accounts, filing for benefits, and dealing with estate planning issues. Income from retirement accounts, life insurance, Social Security benefits and any pension payments must be accounted for and balanced against outgoing payables. A trusted advisor can assist in handling pressing issues like these.
Oftentimes the subject of one’s living situation will arise. Do I want to stay in my home? And can I afford to do that? Do I want to sell and move nearer children and/or grandchildren? What are the financial and tax ramifications of various scenarios regarding my primary residence?
An advisor who is a fiduciary and practices holistic financial planning can address these and other important questions that can ease a transition into a new financial life. The key is often the person’s readiness level. Many newly widowed women are just not prepared to take the reins and execute major financial decisions the first few months they’re alone. They’re often reeling from the shock of ending one stage of their lives. Most take some time to find their footing and become comfortable with beginning a new chapter.
Eventually women living alone need an understanding of what their new personal budget is going to like. They’ll evaluate all recurring expenses and understand the sources of all streams of income. Simply stated, they’ll take charge of their financial affairs.
Widows are now living on one Social Security check instead of two. They’re adapting to working with a new budget for a single person, and they’re now the primary decision maker in all their financial affairs. It’s a lot to digest and process during what is normally already a very difficult period of time.
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.