3 Things a Widow can do to Gain Financial Control

Contributed by: Sandra Adams, CFP® Sandy Adams

Typical of most couples, my clients “Mike and Sue” split the household chores evenly.  She handled the house – decorating, cleaning, meals, etc.  He handled the cars, and the finances, including paying the bills.  He was a retired engineer – he loved cars and he loved numbers and details.  She hated all of that numbers stuff – so much so that for the most part she didn’t even attend annual meetings with their financial advisor -- until the last few years that I offered to go out to their home to meet so she would be involved in the annual meeting. I felt like it was important that Sue at least have a basic understanding of what was going on.

Mike was killed unexpectedly in a car accident; a man taken way too young in his mid-70’s.   Sue was taken completely by surprise and was unprepared, as most of us are, to be alone.  Her children live nearby, so that was comforting.  From a financial perspective, she was at least knowledgeable about what she had to work with and knew who to call, and we were able to speak immediately.

In the coming months, Sue gave herself time, as we recommended, not to make any big decisions; to find her new normal without Mike.  This involved figuring out what her new cash flow looked like; she got rid of some services and added some others, etc.  Sue also worked her way through Mike’s bill paying system.  It was very detail oriented and complicated – way too rigorous for her tastes.  But she felt, somehow, like she needed to stick to his system because it had always worked for them.  My advice to Sue (and to any widow) as they take control of their own financial affairs after the death of a loved one is this:

  1. Take the time to figure out what your new normal is and what changes can be made to fit your new lifestyle;
  2. Use a system that makes things easy for you, don’t stick to a system that makes you crazy just because it’s the one that your deceased spouse used for years;
  3. Use your financial advisor as a partner/coach to help guide you through the process as you take control of your financial life.  If this is new to you, it could take a year or two for you to feel comfortable with the process.  And that’s okay.

Becoming a widow at any age is challenging enough, without facing the additional hurdles of handling things you weren’t responsible for in the past.  Use your resources and give yourself permission to design your financial life to fit your new normal. 

Sandra Adams, CFP® is a Partner and Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Sandy specializes in Elder Care Financial Planning and is a frequent speaker on related topics. In 2012-2014 Sandy has been named to the Five Star Wealth Managers list in Detroit Hour magazine. In addition to her frequent contributions to Money Centered, she is regularly quoted in national media publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Research Magazine and Journal of Financial Planning.


Five Star Award is based on advisor being credentialed as an investment advisory representative (IAR), a FINRA registered representative, a CPA or a licensed attorney, including education and professional designations, actively employed in the industry for five years, favorable regulatory and complaint history review, fulfillment of firm review based on internal firm standards, accepting new clients, one- and five-year client retention rates, non-institutional discretionary and/or non-discretionary client assets administered, number of client households served.

This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Sandy Adams, CFP® and not necessarily those of Raymond James.