The loss of a spouse. This is a devastating event to say the least. Not only has one lost their life partner but also may see their entire financial situation changing.
Financial changes are hard during the best of times however, when we add in the incredible sense of sadness and heartbreak this type of loss brings, it can really set the stage for a difficult journey.
I remember all too clearly watching my mother, when she was 47, deal with all of this when my dad passed away over 40 years ago. (To learn more about what led me to specializing in working with widows, check out my video here where a somewhat younger Rick tells the story).
Just recently, a woman, age 62 (we will call her Emma) called me. Her husband Carl (not his real name either) passed away this past year after a long illness at the age of 66.
Emma received all kinds of advice. All from very well-meaning friends and family. "Sell the house. Don't sell the house. Cash-out his IRA to save on taxes. Get some life insurance. Start Social Security now. Give each of your kids $15,000."
These were just some of the questions she asked me. Fortunately, she hadn't acted on any of this "advice". Don't get me wrong, I'm sure all of this advice was well-intended. It's just that unless someone specializes in this area, irreversible mistakes can be made.
Selling houses, taking Social Security, giving away money, etc., MAY be the right decision BUT without professional guidance could result in all kinds of problems. (Cashing out Carl's IRA is definitely up there on to the DO NOT list).
As a sidebar, here's an example from a client I work with. (Small details altered for anonymity). Her husband had died at age 46 and she was 44. They had three children together all under 18. Social Security pays out family or widow benefits and if children are under 18, are entitled to a benefit. However, there is a family maximum one can receive and if the living spouse is still working and earning income before their full retirement age for Social Security (age 66 to 67 for most), they can lose benefits. In this case, it made more sense financially for just the kids to collect a benefit as it resulted in a higher payout. This is just one example of not making decisions unless you know all of the rules.
So what should one do?
✪ My first rule for widows is:
Do NOT make any major financial decisions in the first year a spouse passes away.
Why? Because this is a highly emotional and stressful time and in my 30 years of helping folks like this, I can't think of too many times where doing so brought about a positive result.
Sure, pay the bills and establish some semblance of living but leave the big decisions on hold for a bit.
✪ My second rule for widows is:
Only work with professionals. Family and friends mean well but they generally don't have the experience or knowledge of a professional. Would you ask your brother-in-law the plumber to do your taxes? (Well I hope not unless they are a CPA and plumbing is their side gig)
✪ My third rule for widows is:
Get support. Going this alone is just too much. A therapist or support group can be extremely beneficial in your mental well-being. A good friend to talk to is important as well and hopefully you have someone in your life like that.
✪ The fourth rule is:
Be patient with yourself. Everyone heals at different levels. Those that tell you they know exactly how you feel or you should be over things may be well-meaning but you must go at your own pace. #3 comes in very handy here to help get you to a better place emotionally.
✪ The fifth rule is:
Don't suppress your feelings. This goes hand in hand with #4. If you feel like crying, then cry. If you feel angry, be angry. To quote William Shakespeare, "To weep is to make less the depth of grief".
If you or someone you know is going through the loss of a spouse, please reach out to me and I can help.
If you would like to schedule a complimentary call, click HERE to see my calendar or just shoot me an email or give me a call.
In good health.
All the best.
Rick Fingerman, CFP®
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