Contributed by: Sandra Adams, CFP®
Typical of most couples, my clients Mike and Sue evenly split the household chores. She handled the house – decorating, cleaning, meals, etc. He handled the cars and the finances, including paying the bills.
A retired engineer, Mike loved cars, and he loved numbers and details. Sue 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. Over the last few years, I offered to meet at their home so she would be involved in the financial review. I felt it was important that Sue have at least a basic understanding of what was going on.
When Mike unexpectedly died in a car accident, a man taken way too young in his mid-70’s, Sue felt completely unprepared, as most of us would, for a life alone. Her children lived nearby, so that was comforting. From a financial perspective, she at least knew what she had to work with and knew who to call. We were able to speak shortly after Mike’s death.
In the months that followed, Sue gave herself time, as we recommended, to not make any big decisions and to find her new normal without Mike. This involved figuring out what her new cash flow looked like; she eliminated some services and added others, etc. Sue also worked her way through Mike’s bill paying system. Very detail oriented and complicated, it was way too rigorous for her tastes. But she felt, somehow, that she needed to stick to his system, because it had always worked for them.
My suggestion to Sue (and to any widow) as she takes control of her own financial affairs after the death of a loved one is this:
Take the time to figure out what your new normal is and what changes can be made to fit your new lifestyle.
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.
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, 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 for which you weren’t responsible in the past. Use your resources and give yourself permission to design your financial life to fit your new normal.
Sandra Adams, CFP®, CeFT™, is a Partner and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® She specializes in Elder Care Financial Planning and serves as a trusted source for national publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Research Magazine, and Journal of Financial Planning.
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