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Ask an Expert – What financial steps should a widow take in the first year?
What financial steps should a widow take in the first year?
You may be experiencing a range of emotions when your spouse dies. Unfortunately, these feelings don’t go away instantly, and when you start working with your finances, you may feel emotionally overwhelmed. What you are feeling is normal.
However, now is the time you must start pulling the pieces together so you can protect yourself and be your own advocate. It will also be helpful to have a trusted friend or relative help you through this period.
Get a notebook/journal and start writing everything down, because you will not remember having some conversations and certainly not the details. You will feel like you’re operating in a “fog” the first couple of months.
Begin to organize information:
1. Start a filing system for quick and easy retrieval of information.
2. Create a calendar with important due dates.
3. Keep a log in your notebook of actions taken, including the date and contact person.
Contact your professional team: attorney, tax preparer, financial advisor:
1. Gather your estate documents like will, and trust.
2. Talk to your tax preparer about pertinent tax issues for the current year.
3. If you’re the executor of your husband’s will, manage the estate settlement process with the guidance of your advisors.
4. Discuss your finances with your financial advisor.
Review your cash flow for the first year:
1. Prepare a statement listing where money will come from and where it needs to go in the first six months to a year. Include a list of regular bills.
2. Liquidate certain assets that don’t have a penalty such as certificate of deposits or annuities with a death benefit.
1. Locate your spouse’s birth certificate, Social Security number, marriage license, military discharge papers, financial account statements and company benefits brochure you may need to collect certain benefits. Keep these papers in your organizational folders.
2. File for Social Security benefits at www.ssa.gov.
3. Contact your life insurance agent to start collecting benefits. Review payout options.
4. Collect veteran’s benefits by contacting the Department of Veterans Affairs if your spouse was in the military.
5. Rollover your spouse’s IRA into your own.
6. Contact the HR Department of your spouse’s employer to collect unpaid salary, vacation pay, sick pay, bonuses, pension benefits, and other benefits due.
7. Take a pension from your husband’s qualified retirement plan or roll it over to your IRA after reviewing the options and your financial circumstances.
8. Contact the financial aid office if you have a child in college. They may be eligible for increased financial aid.
Adjust health and other insurance coverage:
1. Make sure you have your own medical insurance coverage.
2. Notify all insurance agents for auto, homeowners, liability, long-term care, and any other policies.
Review assets and liabilities:
1. Create a financial net worth statement, a list of all you own and what you owe.
Complete the estate settlement:
1. Change the title and beneficiaries on investments, life insurance, vehicles, safe deposit box, retirement accounts. When you’re ready to change the names on your credit card, send it in writing with a copy of the death certificate.
2. Joint checking account should be left open for a year so you can deposit checks payable to your spouse.
3. File an estate tax return if federal or state estate tax is owed. This is due nine months after death.
Take care of yourself:
1. Consider joining a support group for widows or talk with a counselor.
2. Remember self-care including exercise, yoga, meditation, massages, bubble baths, facials, and chocolate!
3. Read a good book about widowhood. There are several good ones, including “For Widows Only!” by Annie Estlund.
4. Keep in touch with your female friends.
Move forward with new goals and your new life:
1. Create an updated financial plan focusing on short-term goals first. Keep it simple and manageable.
2. Update your will and estate plan.
3. Expand your social circles. Meet new people who know you as yourself and not as half a couple.
4. Be careful about entering a new relationship too quickly. Be wary of guys looking for a “purse.” Keep your finances to yourself.
5. It may not seem like it, but there is life after grief.
It’s ok to postpone major decisions during the first year when possible. You don’t need to rush, especially with your big decisions. You will be bombarded by well-meaning friends and family with their suggestions for what “the right decision” is. It can be very helpful to have a trusted friend help you think through some decisions you’ll make. For example, do you pay off your mortgage, or move in with your daughter?
You are at a very vulnerable time following your spouse’s death. Go slowly. Be gentle. Give yourself time to heal.