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5 Important Financial Steps for Widows

June 1, 2013 |



The loss of a spouse can be a devastating, life-changing event. Due to longer life expectancies, women are more likely to face this situation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 40% of women age 65 and older are widows compared to 13% of men, and it might surprise you to know that approximately 34% of widows are under age 65.

Becoming a widow at any age can be one of the most difficult challenges a woman must face. Not only is there the emotional loss of a husband, but also the task of handling everything – including all the finances – without the help of a spouse. Even if you’ve always handled your family’s finances, the number of financial and legal matters that have to be settled in the weeks and months following your loved one’s death can be overwhelming.

Sadly, for many women, becoming a widow is a first step toward economic hardship. That’s why it’s critical for you to organize your finances after your spouse’s death and take ongoing steps to secure your financial future and that of your family.


First, take a deep breath

Before you start handling the financial end of things, though, make sure to consider your own needs. The period following the death of a spouse can be a blur of emotions–shock, sadness, despair, anger, denial. It’s important to allow yourself the freedom to feel however you want to feel. You don’t owe it to anyone to feel or act in a certain way.

Facing your loss can ultimately help you as you work to adapt to the new conditions of your life, so that in time you can create something new. This period of adjustment, which can last for several years, is often a time of profound self-discovery for women, who may find themselves examining issues of identity, life meaning, and aging. During this time, it’s important to surround yourself with people you trust–family, friends, support groups, professionals–who can offer support and advice that’s in your best interest.


The short term: steps to take

There are several financial tasks that must be done in the weeks and months after a spouse’s death. It can certainly become overwhelming, so I suggest that you create a list of what has to be done now versus what can be delayed.  By making a list you know that you won’t forget anything and by separating your list into things that must be done now versus later, you can stay focused on the most urgent and important tasks.  Here are some of the most important steps to take in the short-term:


  • Locate important documents and set up a filing system.
  • Seek professional advice to manage the process, make financial recommendations, settle the estate and file tax returns.  
  • Track your projects using a log with deadlines.  Separate out the priority projects to a different log and start a tracking form for each project to write notes, names and contact information and follow up information.
  • Apply for personal, company and government benefits.
  • Evaluate short-term expenses and set up a cash reserve.


Avoid hasty decisions. For discretionary financial decisions, go at your own pace, not someone else’s. For example, don’t commit to move from your current home until you can make a decision based on reason instead of emotion. Don’t spend money impulsively. Don’t cave in to pressure to sell or give away your spouse’s possessions. Find out where you stand financially before you make any large purchases, sell property, or loan money to others.

Next month, we will talk about ‘3 Simple Steps to Set Up a Filing System’.

See you then, Joy Kirsch

Securities, advisory services and financial planning offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor.
Member SIPC/FINRA. The Modern Widows Club is not affiliated with Kirsch & Associates or LPL Financial.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.


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Joy Kirsch

Joy D. Kirsch is a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner who specializes in wealth management and financial coaching for Women in Transition. Widowed at age 30, she is passionate about helping other widows make healthy financial decisions.