A widow does not plan to lead an independent life. She doesn’t plan to lose her spouse; she plans to live happily ever after, forever. So when the unexpected happens, how is she going to learn to live independently, especially while grieving? The death of a spouse diminishes a person’s ability to think clearly. Widows, according to experts, lose as much as 20 percent of their brain power when they are grieving. As a result, widows experience “widow brain”. Sometimes this means she struggles making any decisions. Other times, it means she makes decisions too quickly that she later regrets.
Our emotional health is closely linked to our financial health. The reality is that widowhood, in addition to being an emotional event, is also a financial event. You may have noticed that when life changes, money changes and when money changes, life changes. Losing a spouse requires handling lots of administrative and financial details, all at a time when you are suffering greatly.
I regularly encounter widows feeling forced to make financial decisions when they’re not prepared emotionally, much less financially. These decisions can affect the rest of their lives. That’s why financial advisors generally advise widow and those who have lost loved ones recently, not to make major financial decisions for a year — if they can. That’s wonderful if she can afford to wait that long, although quite frankly, the utility company and mortgage company aren’t going to say, “Take a year to think about it.” There are some major decisions that have to be made early on. For example: Can you afford to stay in your home? Can you afford to continue spending at the rate you’re spending? How is your health insurance going to be covered? Should you start your Social Security payments or defer them to the future? The key for a widow is to get to a point where you can make those decisions without regret, and you cannot do that from a place of fear or confusion.
Give yourself permission to create a safe space where you put off decisions that don’t need to be made today. The Sudden Money Institute calls this a “decision-free zone”. But how do you create this safe space? Just start by making a list of everything’s that’s on your mind, and then divide these items into three different lists, the Now, Soon & Later lists to prioritize them. The Now list may include finding out what accounts exist and paying bills, while the Soon & Later lists include long term decisions about the home or financial planning. The whole purpose of making these lists is to help you get to that decision-free zone, to take all that chaos, organize it and prioritize it in order to spend your energy on the things that are most important.
Whenever you are required to address a major item on your Now list, begin with the end in mind. Envision the ideal outcome using as many of your senses as possible. See, hear, taste, smell, and feel it and ask yourself, is this important to me? Why? Does this outcome appeal to the person I am today rather than the person I was in my marriage? Once you’ve determined the best outcome, it’s much easier to determine a course of action and make a decision that will remain a good one for the years to come.
The transition period for a widow is more about the change in her life than it is about the money. But there is an inherent connection between your financial and emotional recovery. The more that you understand about your finances, the better you recover emotionally. Likewise, the more you come to terms with your emotional loss, the better your ability to make positive financial decisions.
~ Joy Kirsch
Securities, advisory services and financial planning offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual