When you lose your mate, you lose so much—your best friend, your equilibrium, your future together. And just when you’re at your lowest, it hits you: You could lose a lot of money, too.
Your finances may crash in myriad ways just when you’re dealing with grief. Among them:
- If your spouse was still working—and the average age at which women become widowed is 59, according to the Census Bureau—you may lose much or all of your household income.
- If you’re both retired, your household may go from two Social Security benefits down to one.
- Your tax rate may rise, now that you will be filing as single.
- You may lose access to credit cards you thought were yours but that were established under your spouse’s name.
- Availability to savings, retirement accounts and investments could be delayed or even blocked if beneficiary information wasn’t properly filled out.
- You may miss out on expected inheritances if your spouse was unlucky enough to die before his or her parents did.
- You may need to pay someone to do the many things your spouse did for you, from lawn care to home maintenance.
- If you’re widowed from a second marriage, your spouse’s assets may go to first-marriage children, not you.
Of course, the best time to deal with all of this is before the death. Financial advisers are comfortable doling out reams of pre-death planning advice: Update your beneficiaries on all your accounts! Get adequate life insurance! Make a list of accounts and passwords and monthly payments to be made! But after he’s gone? Not so much. (Note that it is usually a “he,” as 58 percent of women and 28 percent of men 75 and older are widowed. I’ll use those genders when writing this, but it applies to all.)
After he’s gone, there’s more pain and fewer options. “I think a lot of people become widowed and lose their mooring so much that they can’t manage the decision-making,” says Karen Altfest, a New York City financial adviser who works with older female clients. But the situation isn’t hopeless, and these financial strategies can protect your bottom line while you navigate your new future and your grief.
Get the right kind of help
Even if you’re a DIY person when it comes to your money, it helps to have a professional look at your whole new financial life. Which accounts need to be switched, moved, renamed or rethought? Can you still afford your home? What’s your optimal insurance and retirement strategy moving forward? You can find an adviser who specializes in these matters to review your situation once and then step away. Just don’t glom on to the first casual acquaintance who offers to come in and help you sort out your money, Altfest says. “What worries me is some of these widows can be a target,” she says. “Somebody attaches themselves to you, and you barely knew them before.”
Check your own insurance
If you are still working and supporting kids, you may need to bump up your own life or disability insurance, says Ken Weingarten, a Lawrenceville, New Jersey, financial adviser. You may also want to take another look at long-term care insurance or make other plans for how you will receive care if you need it down the road, he adds. “My personal experience colors this,” says Weingarten, whose mother died young after several years in a nursing home.