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How Widows Can Better Manage Their Money

Having lost my father and brother in the last year, I know how hard it is to keep things together after a loss.

When it comes to money when grieving, the difficulty is compounded, particularly if you haven’t prepared for money matters.

I’ve long suggested that every family do some basics:

1) Everyone needs a will and living trust that gives survivors instructions,

2) Also needed are financial and health care powers of attorney that puts someone in charge in case of disability,

3) Some written instructions are needed on what to do with money and possessions after death.



None of this is easily transacted because most people have no desire to address mortality. Grieving is painful. Not doing these things, however, can result in legal chaos after death or during severe disability. Loved ones may not be able to pay bills or make life care decisions.

Widows, in particular, may be more vulnerable if their spouse or partner handled money matters. But here are some things to know, courtesy of Squared Away blogger Kim Blanton. Blanton interviewed Kathleen Rehl, who is 72, is a former financial planner, speaker, and author of “Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows.”

— Don’t Make Big Decisions Right Away. “The only immediate things she might need to do are file for benefits like Social Security and life insurance and make sure the bills are still being paid. All widows need to take care of these essential financial matters. But major decisions should be delayed.”

— Watch Out For Scamsters. “I would teach women that, in early grief, they were going to get all kinds of advice from financial salespeople, relatives, and friends. I’d have them practice saying, “Thank you for your suggestions but it’s way too soon. I’m talking to my adviser about the best uses of my resources and I’m not ready to make a decision right now.”

— Plan Carefully for the Rest of Your Life. “She’ll have to look at the investments. They may have been good for them as a couple but not for her alone. There will be tax implications if she takes money out of an IRA.”

“There might be special family issues or a business involved. On the estate planning side, widows are sharing their stories and aspirations for their children and grandchildren through legacy planning.”

The key to all of these suggestions is that widows are not alone. Find a fee-only financial planner who will take time to move through all of the tax, portfolio and estate planning details. It will take months, so take your time (it took my family more than two years). But the time you spend working through the financial details will be well worth it.

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