Make Sense of Your Financial Life After Losing Your Spouse

Losing spouse mid-life is rarely part of the plan. In addition to grieving the loss of your partner, you are faced with a myriad of financial decisions that can add to the stress:

  • Maybe you are considering selling your home to downsize or move closer to family for support
  • Or you are contemplating going back to work after an extended period caring for children or considering a career change into something that is better suited to your newly single status
  • There may be life insurance proceeds that you need to manage, and decide how to best leverage as you move forward

How can you possibly make all of these decisions while also dealing with all of the emotion of this difficult time in life? Having a framework to leverage can be a helpful starting point. I recommend that all of my clients follow a four-step process:

  1. Reorganize your financial life
  2. Reassess your financial priorities
  3. Reimagine your future
  4. Realign your resources

Using this framework can give you the confidence you need to move forward into the next chapter and take control of your financial situation in the process.

Get Your Financial Life Organized

The first, and probably most important, step to take is to get organized. In most couples, there is typically one partner who takes more ownership of the finances. If that was not you, you may not even know where all of the accounts are, or what the logins are for the various institutions. So, you will need to use statements, tax returns and any other records you may have in order to try to find all of your accounts. You will then need to work with each firm where you have accounts to have the accounts switched into your name alone (hopefully you are listed as beneficiary on any accounts that were only in your husband’s name as this will speed along the process). Once all of the paperwork is complete and the accounts are titled in your name, you can begin consolidating them, or moving them all to one firm. While this is not a requirement, it will make your life much easier going forward. You will only need to remember one login, and it will be much easier to see and manage your full financial picture. And don’t forget to update beneficiaries on any existing or new accounts so that they go where you want them to if anything should happen to you. Along those same lines, you will also need to draft a new will (especially if you have minor children).

Do You Have the Same Priorities Since You Lost Your Spouse?

Once you have things organized and have a good understanding of what you have, the next step is to reassess your financial priorities. Prior to this transition, you and your late husband probably had financial goals that you were working towards together. But do those goals still make sense in the new reality? Does money you were saving for a dream vacation now need to be used to keep paying the mortgage while you get back into the workforce? If you were a two-income household, what now needs to change so that everything works with just one income? You need to consider both short- and long-term goals. While the shorter-term needs might feel most pressing, you can’t lose sight of the longer terms needs like retirement and the kids’ college. Some things that used to be a priority might not seem so important as you adjust to the new normal.

Let Your Values Drive Your Vision for the Future

Armed with a good understanding of your financial situation and list of your priorities, you can begin to reimagine your future based on what you value most. When creating a financial plan, one of the most important things a person can do is really define their values. The first time I was asked what I value most in life, I couldn’t answer the question. It took me a week of pondering (and Googling lists of values) to really understand what my values are (and why trying to force myself to do things that aren’t aligned with my values creates frustration and disconnection in my life). So, spend some time thinking about what your values are, write them down and keep them handy because when you need to make financial decisions it is much easier when you know which decisions are in line with your values and which are not. For example, if your primary value is time with family, and you are offered a job with a big paycheck that seems like it will solve all of your financial worries but it requires you to be on the road (and away from your family) 75% of the time, then it probably isn’t the right answer for you. Using your values as the center point, you can start to create a vision of the kind of life that you want to create for yourself. Having a clear picture of where you want to go is the first step in moving forward.

Realign Your Resources with Your Vision

Finally, once you have a vision for the future, you can realign your resources to help you get there. While your financial resources are obviously a part of this equation, you also have to think about how you want to use your time and energy. Together your money, time and energy are your human capital and they are the three resources that you have to help live the life you want. Whenever you need to make a decision on how to spend your time, money or energy, think back to your values and if spending the time/money/energy will bring you closer to your values or move you further away. When you are making decisions that bring you closer to your values, you will be happier and more fulfilled in life. And you deserve that.

While none of this is easy, using this framework can give you a good place to start. And if you want support or help along the way, feel free to Schedule a Call so we can talk.