Financial steps widow first year

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Ask an Expert – What financial steps should a widow take in the first year?

Jason Conger Financial Advisor

Answered By

Linda Lingo

Money Coach


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.

Collect benefits:

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
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.

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Singles taking Ownership of their money

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Ask an Expert – How can recently single people start to take ownership of their money and money management, especially newly divorced people whose exes controlled the money.

Jason Conger Financial Advisor

Answered By

Maggie Koosa

Financial Planner


How can recently single people start to take ownership of their money and money management, especially newly divorced people whose exes controlled the money.



One who is newly single should take a thorough look of their cashflow, including expenses and income. Living with one income is quite different and affects what excess (not necessary) expenses are tenable.


After working through a divorce, the household assets may be in disarray. One should organize their debts, including mortgage, credit cards, etc and understand due dates and interest rates. They should organize their savings, checking, and investments and understand interest rates, rates of return, allocations, and strategies.


After one has a working understanding of their cashflow, debts, and savings, one can develop a strategic plan to work toward increasing savings (personal and investments), decreasing debts, and working toward their future goals.

* On a side note, newly single people should update their beneficiaries on all of their insurances, financial accounts, estate documents (will, power of attorneys, healthcare proxy, trust), etc to reflect their post-divorce intentions.

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Mortgage Loans & Divorce – What Every Woman Needs to Know


Mortgage Loans & Divorce – What Every Woman Needs to Know

Divorce can be devastating. Everything changes. A new living arrangement is one of the first decisions that needs to be made. Buy? Rent? Stay in the home or downsize?

I was at a networking lunch and met Joanne Rogers, Vice President of Mortgage Lending at Guaranteed Rate. I invited her to answer some of the top questions she gets when she meets with women who are going through a divorce.

Do alimony and child support count as income?

When you apply for a home loan, you’re required to certify your income, offer proof of employment and show that you’re a good credit risk. Many people are not sure what to write down when it comes to reporting child support payments, alimony, and other income as a result of a separation or divorce.

How do you include income from alimony payments and additional financial support in your loan application? More importantly, how does your lender regard such payments?

The first step in getting lenders to recognize this as a legitimate source of income. Do this by showing proof that such payments are happening on a regular basis. Many couples who enter divorce proceedings agree to informal child support arrangements or alimony payments. Unfortunately, the lender is not obligated to recognize such arrangements.

In fact, for alimony or other payments to be considered as income, there must be a court order or other legal documentation showing that one party is legally obliged to pay the other party.

A signed and recorded Divorce Decree, Separation Agreement or Court Order is sufficient in most cases, as they state the following:

  • The party paying alimony or child support must be obligated in writing to pay.
  • The payer must be obligated to continue paying for a minimum of three years after the loan closing.

Additionally, there must be evidence of complete, on-time payments for at least 6 months (FHA requires 12 months when alimony or child support is greater than 30% of total income).

If payments are made on an inconsistent or sporadic basis, the income is not acceptable to qualify the borrower.

How do my alimony and child support payments affect debt-to-income ratios?

Payments must be considered as part of the borrower’s recurring monthly debt obligation when the borrower is required to pay alimony or child support under a divorce decree, separation agreement, or any other written court order (and payments must continue for 10 or more months).

Voluntary payments do not need to be taken into consideration.

The lender has the option to reduce the qualifying income by the amount of the court-ordered obligation (Fannie Mae Conventional allows this, and often is necessary to reduce debt to income ratios) in lieu of counting as a monthly liability.

Payments that are treated as a reduction in income must be noted as an adjustment to income on tax returns/transcripts.

What is the best way to document complete, on-time payments?

Schedule automatic direct deposits from payer’s bank account for the exact amount and due dates per the court order. Cash is unacceptable as there is no way to document receipt. Income must be provided on Federal tax returns and confirmed on lender-obtained IRS tax transcripts.

My child is 16 years old. Can their child support be counted as income?

If your child will be considered a legal adult at 18 and there is no proof of at least 3 years of a continuance of child support, then it cannot be counted as income.

Navigating divorce is difficult even in the best of circumstances. Make sure you get the facts and protect yourself financially for the next chapter of your life.

Taking a thing apart is always faster than putting something together. This is true of everything except marriage. ― Joe Hill

We will provide you useful and timely information you can use to be #financiallyfearless