By Scott Ford, CEO, Founder & Wealth Advisor
Did you know that widows are one of the fastest growing demographics in the United States, with over 11 million and growing?1 Losing a spouse is one of the hardest things to walk through. On top of all of the emotional burdens that a death can bring, it can also mean major financial changes as well. Widows have unique financial considerations that often get lost in the grief and adjustment to a new way of life. If you are a widow and don’t know where to start when it comes to planning for your financial future, here are some principles that will guide you on your journey
1. Take Your Time
When you are under incredible emotional pressure, it’s easy to make rash decisions just to get things over with. But research shows that people are more likely to ignore long-term consequences when making decisions under stress.2 In your first year of widowhood, find a trusted advisor who can help you take care of financial basics, such as cash flow, bills, and Social Security and insurance benefits. Everything else can wait. Here are two actions you will need to take if you have just become a widow:
Know Where Your Money Is
In the weeks following your spouse’s death, you will need to make countless financial decisions, so you need to know what you have to work with. You should seek out all accounts, whether checking, savings, retirement, or investment, and gain access to them if you don’t already. Any changes to the accounts may require your marriage certificate, your spouse’s birth certificate and Social Security card. Make sure to review and update your beneficiaries as necessary on your investment and bank accounts, as well as insurance policies.
Evaluate Your Current Situation
As you enter this new phase of life, you want to know that you will be taken care of financially so you aren’t forced to make hasty decisions. If you don’t have a current budget, list out all your expenses and income, including potential income from your spouse’s Social Security benefits, pension, and insurance policies. Once you know what you are working with, you can make a plan for the basics until you ready to take more responsibility with your finances.
2. Educate Yourself On Financial Matters
A huge component of financial security is knowledge. Ignorance can lead to stress, unwise choices, and instability. It’s easy to fear what you don’t understand. Money and the world of finances can seem confusing and complex, but with guidance, it’s easy to make informed choices and create a strategic plan that is sustainable.
3. Look Ahead
While planning for your future as a widow may bring up strong emotions, you will feel empowered by the process of charting your financial roadmap. In this step, you take the time to reflect and get intentional about what you want your life to look like. Once you have the big picture, it will be easier to create strategies for your investments, taxes, and pre-retirement or post-retirement plans.
4. Create Your Roadmap
When you feel like you have a better understanding of your financial situation and some foundational financial knowledge, you can start creating a plan. This is not something you have to do alone. Finding a financial advisor that you work well with and trust is paramount.
You’ll want to think through a plan for how to use the income you’ll be receiving. Withdrawing money from certain accounts may have taxes or heavy fees, so you will want to come up with a strategy of which assets to draw from first, and which ones to wait on to maximize the benefits.3 Compare this with your estimated living expenses since your previous budget will likely need to be adjusted for your new situation.
5. Look Outward
Once you have a plan in place for your future and have moved forward with purpose and fulfillment, you might be ready to make long-lasting legacy decisions with your money. Do you want to set up an education fund for your grandkids? What charities would you like to support? What do you want your estate plan to look like? This phase of financial planning as a widow can be incredibly exciting, as you look for ways to carry on your spouse’s and your own dreams and plans.
Don’t Do It Alone
In order to survive widowhood and even thrive again, you need a community surrounding you who will help you stay emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially healthy. Part of that support system should be a trusted financial professional. In many marriages, the husband handles the finances and it is he who has a relationship with the family’s financial advisor. Once he is gone, his wife inherits an advisor that she neither knows or trusts.
It is vital that you have someone you trust that you can turn to for help in financial matters. Widowhood is a very vulnerable time and many unscrupulous people prey on widows. Take some time now to get to know your financial advisor and make sure you like working with them and feel that you can trust them. Your peace of mind is of utmost importance.
Whether you are wanting to start a conversation about how to understand your finances or are needing help in managing the estate your husband left behind, we at Cornerstone Wealth Management would be honored to come alongside you. Book an appointment online today!
Scott Ford is CEO, Founder and Wealth Advisor of Cornerstone Wealth Management Group, serving entrepreneurs, business owners, executives, and their families. The firm specializes in business liquidity strategies and SBA financing strategies. It is Scott’s mission to help his clients pursue financial freedom and live a balanced and fulfilled life.
Scott is a Wealth Advisor and Registered Financial Consultant (RFC). He was recognized as one of the 20 Rising Stars of Wealth Management by Private Asset Management Magazine in 2008 based upon assets managed of $1 million or more per client. Since 2005, Scott has been an active financial technical analyst.
Clients often choose to work with Scott because of his experience with the challenges business owners and executives face as well as his firm’s disciplined process. His personal and proactive approach is designed to bring clarity and simplicity to the complex issues of financial management. For over 20 years, he has been helping his clients define and pursue their own unique version of “True Wealth.”
Scott is the author of three books: Financial Jiu-Jitsu: A Fighter’s Guide to Conquering Your Finances, The Widow’s Wealth Map: Six Steps to Beginning Again, and the New York Times Bestseller, The Sustainable Edge: Fifteen Minutes a Week to a Richer Entrepreneurial Life.
He and his wife, Angie, reside in Hedgesville, WV and have two wonderful children as well as a dog and a cat. In addition to spending time with his family, Scott is a voracious reader and enjoys woodworking, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, golf, hunting, permaculture and beekeeping; basically anything outdoors.
3Ash, M., CFP®, CDFA™. (n.d.). Eight Steps for Widows to Financial Well-Being. Retrieved November 7, 2016, from https://www.brightscope.com/financial-planning/advice/article/2983/Eight-Steps-For-Widows-To-Financial-Well-Being/