Dear Mr. Market:
Our letters to you typically center around the stock market, the economy, and related investment topics. At the end of the day, however, what is wealth (the accumulation, growth, and preservation of it) all really for? That answer is different for everyone but from our experience in meeting with thousands of investors ….it means nothing without family. Losing a loved one is always painful but when it’s your spouse there are also several financial issues that arise and knowing how to navigate is critical.
The following article is written by a guest contributor, Lucille Rosetti (see credits at the end):
The loss of a spouse leaves an emotional void that’s never really filled. It’s an experience that leaves one feeling disoriented and directionless. For most people, there are important decisions to make at a time when strong emotions can make it virtually impossible to concentrate and think clearly. It’s not a good time to make tough decisions that can have a lasting impact on one’s life and ability to lead a happy and fulfilling lifestyle after the loss of a life partner.
Fortunately, many of these decisions don’t need to be made immediately after such an emotionally crippling loss. Take some time to carefully consider when it’s easier to focus and think unemotionally. If that’s proving too difficult, seek the aid of someone close to you and your departed spouse who can help make informed decisions.
One of the first harsh realities you’ll face is the need to prove that your spouse has passed away. That means providing copies of the death certificate to credit card companies, insurance companies, the Social Security Administration, and mortgage company. Make sure to get around 20 copies so that you can use them as needed. This is an important step because it’ll help you change the names on accounts or obtain money/payouts that are due you. And don’t forget to update your will, which is an easy thing to overlook when you’re emotionally distraught.
Meet with Those Who Know Best
Making the best decisions for you and your family is difficult if you’re not in possession of all the facts and pertinent information. Arrange to meet with a financial advisor, tax accountant, and an attorney with expertise in estate planning. Make sure you walk away from these meetings with good notes or printed information you can refer to as necessary and with a plan.
Keep Your Own Counsel
Remember during this difficult time that advice is important and desirable, but it doesn’t mean you should allow others to make decisions for you or push you into making hasty ones. It can be very easy to make snap judgments when you just want to get it all over with. Bear in mind that there’s too much at stake to act without careful consideration concerning your property, investments, and other financial assets. Give yourself time to heal, and think before signing any important documents. And don’t be afraid to tell friends and family members it’s too soon to make those kinds of decisions. Loved ones can be more useful by helping make sure you keep up with bills, get to appointments, and gather the information needed to make good decisions.
Don’t Be a Target
Widows/widowers are frequently targeted by unscrupulous salespeople and others looking for ways to take advantage of your confusion and emotional frame of mind. If you have assets and available cash, you can expect to hear about “can’t miss” investment opportunities that sound too good to be true — because they are. Always ask for credentials and whether they’re registered or fully accredited in their field.
As a homeowner, you have a lot of money tied up in what is probably your biggest investment. The loss of a spouse can be a good time to consider selling a home to free up cash for financial and health care expenses. Selling a house in a healthy housing market can earn the profit you need to settle your financial situation and begin a new life. Discuss your situation with a realtor, who can help weigh the pros and cons of selling based on market conditions, the physical state of your home, how much equity you have built up, and what it’s worth.
Remember that making momentous financial decisions in the wake of a spouse’s death is not a good idea. Take some time to heal first and process all the complex emotions you’re feeling. When you’re ready, talk to financial professionals and loved ones who can give you good advice.
Lucille Rosetti created TheBereaved.org as a means of sharing tools to help people through the grief process. Having lost some of the people closest to her, she understands what it’s like, and how it can be an emotional roller coaster that doesn’t always seem to make sense.