Nothing can prepare you for the rush of emotion after losing a spouse. Sometimes, the feeling of numbness takes over and it’s hard to focus on anything. Sometimes, adrenaline kicks in and the desire to get things done takes over to a fault. Whatever the experience is, there is no right or wrong answer to the emotions of this process. However, real life does kick in and the consequences can kick in fast. You may be hyper sensitive to your finances, or not care about them at all- and those emotions may change by the minute. We work with many women who have gone through this process, and we have some tips to share with you.
First, give yourself time to feel your emotions and grieve, but when you can, in small chunks of time, help yourself get things preliminarily organized. If you are not already organized financially and legally, get a box you can put those papers in as they are received. Set up a meeting with your financial advisor, your CPA and your estate planning attorney. Plan to talk with your HR and your spouse’s HR if either of you were employed. Try to not make any decisions until you absolutely have to.
Second, consider asking someone to help you in this first year working with your advisors. When we have a new potential client who has just lost their spouse set an appointment with us, we often ask them if they have a trusted friend or family member that they would like to bring in when they interview us. It is frequently helpful to have someone in the room who can serve as a second set of ears and ask questions they may not think of. It also gives them someone who can help them weed through information and priorities as they go through the financial and legal tasks over the next year as they gain their strength.
Third, engage in the planning as much as you can. While we do think you should try to delay any decisions you can until you must make them, or feel like you know enough to make them, we do believe you should engage in planning. This planning would include understanding how much cash flow you need to cover your immediate needs, but also, as best as you preliminarily can, your long-term needs. You will want to know from where that cash flow is coming, at least in the short-term. This planning should also include risk management. You’ll want to ensure your insurance needs are still met- most of all health insurance. COBRA can help for widows who have lost spouses that were still working. Retired widows over the age of 65 or widows who have their own health insurance can also plan relatively easily. There can be a gap for women under 65 who don’t have their own health insurance. Legal work may also need to be done sooner than later. While more than likely you won’t have to update everything right away, you will want to confirm your Powers of Attorney for yourself and guardian for minor children, if need be.
This kind of planning takes time and energy that you may not feel like you have, but it can also give you some peace of mind. In our experience, knowing what they have to work with helps widows sleep a little easier. It can also help to make a large checklist of everything that needs to be done, and then prioritize it. This usually can’t be done in one sitting. A list can be started, and then left in a central place, so it can be added to as you go. A separate attached list can be made that pulls top priorities from the first list. Top priorities are going to be different for everyone depending on your life circumstance. Watching yourself slowly cross items off the list will give you strength to keep going. You can bring this list to us and we can help you prioritize it and maybe catch items you missed. We have found that taking the list and using it to create short term, mid-term and long-term goals helps break the tidal wave into manageable ripples and keep you on your feet.
Remember, this is a process. And like any process, you will come out on the other side. The key to keeping the worry away is to go slowly, to continue to take baby steps forward, and not try to go it alone.