Losing Your Better Half: Managing Grief and Financial Decision-Making
Losing a husband or wife – whether suddenly or after a long illness – can leave you feeling sad, exhausted, uncertain of how to move forward, and afraid for the future. The stress can even lead to something called the “widowhood effect” in older adults, an increased mortality risk among grieving spouses resulting from self-neglect, lack of social support, or changes in the living environment.
Following the death of a spouse, some of us may feel pressure to make big decisions – including financial decisions – quickly. Ironically, this may be one of the worst times to think about money-related issues. If you or someone you know is grieving, here are some thoughts to guide you during this difficult time.
The laws governing the drafting, interpretation, and validity of estate planning documents vary from state to state. Please consult your estate planning professional regarding your unique situation.
In the Short Term
Put your finances on the back burner, temporarily. While it may seem strange to hear that from a financial advisory firm, the truth is, the process of mourning can affect your decision-making ability, making you feel overwhelmed and even more stressed. Delay what you can for the immediate future, and enlist the help of a friend or your advisor in matters that require attention right away.
Some decisions aren’t as urgent as they may seem. Service providers, friends, and family (who may also be grieving) may mean well, but their sense of urgency – and your own – may be off-kilter. Basically, unless all heck is about to break loose if you fail to act, give yourself a break and assume most financial decisions can wait. Any life insurance proceeds you receive can be temporarily parked in a checking account, providing a cash security cushion and some flexibility without locking up the money long-term. Later, when you feel up to it, you and your advisor can address where the proceeds can benefit you most.
By delaying some decisions, you can create the space to focus on urgent matters. Immediately following your spouse’s death, you’ll have some decisions you can’t ignore – like making funeral arrangements, managing immediate expenses, and simply carrying on, day to day. Make sure you have enough cash flow to handle daily purchases and pay your bills, and gather any paperwork you need right away, such as a death certificate or any pre-planned funeral arrangements. You may also want to check on your health care coverage to make sure it isn’t affected.
Rely on your family and social network. You may not feel comfortable asking for help, but in this circumstance, you should. Turn to your family, friends, and clergy for emotional support. Enlist the help of your financial advisor, insurance agent, or attorney for practical matters that need attention now. Focus on relationships that are existing and supportive, but be wary of forming any new relationships while you are in a vulnerable state. Unfortunately, con artists and scammers often try to prey on others when they are in a weakened state.
In Six Months to a Year
Take stock of where you are, mentally and physically. Are you feeling ready to tackle some of the financial tasks you delayed earlier? It can be helpful and satisfying to start getting your resources organized.
Make sure your advisor is right for you. Occasionally, some individuals decide to engage a different advisor after the death of their spouse. This can be especially true if the spouse who died was the advisor’s main contact. Surviving spouses – when they’re ready – should consider whether their advisor remains a good fit and can be a source of needed support in the future. If it appears the advisor is unwilling or unable to adjust to your needs now, it may be time to consider a change.
While losing a spouse is never easy, you may find comfort just taking things a day at a time. Grief takes a toll on both our mental and physical health. Remember to practice self-care, and ask for the help you need.
This is intended for educational purposes only and should not be construed as personalized financial advice. Please consult your financial professional regarding your unique situation.