Whether it’s sudden and unexpected, the culmination of a lengthy illness or merely the result of old-age and the normal cycle of life, there’s nothing that can prepare you for losing your spouse. Grief and mourning affect each of us uniquely, but all widows and widowers share a painful dilemma: the world seems to demand rapid response to a barrage of critical questions – financial and otherwise. But here is what you need to remember: most decisions are not as urgent as they might seem.
If you have recently lost a spouse, don’t decide anything you don’t have to – especially about your finances. When you’re experiencing grief, your ability to make rational decisions is compromised. Even small choices can feel overwhelming, let alone the big ones. So put off anything that can wait – and most things can wait.
There will be matters you need to attend to – making funeral arrangements, managing immediate expenses, and simply taking care of yourself and your dependents. You will want to make sure you’ve got enough cash flow available to make daily purchases and pay your bills, so these don’t become a source of added stress.
Then consider that you don’t have to go it alone. For practical and emotional support, turn to friends, family, clergy and similar relationships. For financial and legal paperwork, contact professionals such as your financial advisor, your estate planning attorney, your CPA and insurance agent. Focus on relationships that help relieve your burden and avoid those that burn up your limited energy. Be cautious about forming brand new relationships at this time; unfortunately, seemingly sympathetic con artists prey on those whose defenses are down.
Once you feel ready to take on some of the mid- and long-range logistics, slow and steady remains the ways to go. As a first step, start by gathering up your scattered resources. Wills and trusts, insurance policies, financial statements, personal identification, mortgages, retirement benefits, safety deposit box contents, business paperwork, military service records, club memberships … Whether on paper or online, take stock of what you have.
Once all of the logistical issues are addressed, you will need to take a fresh look at your finances – your earning, saving, investing and spending plans and you will need to look at your larger wealth interests, such as your will, trusts, overall insurance coverage and more.
Remember, when it comes to lifetime transitions, each of us is on our own schedule. You may feel ready in a few weeks or it may be a year or longer – there is no rule of thumb or timetable that is applicable – the right answer is what feels right to you. When you are ready to circle back to those larger decisions you put on hold, don’t be afraid to seek out help and only work with those you truly trust and feel comfortable with. You should NEVER feel any pressure. Decisions should be well thought out and deliberate – they should not be made in haste.