Four Steps to Handling Personal Finances After a Spouse’s Death
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Losing a spouse is never easy. I lost mine 12 years ago, after a multi-year battle with cancer. There were many parts of this loss for which I was ready; my mother lost my father at an early age, and she counseled me on preparing financially and practically.
Yet no one can prepare you for the emotional upheaval that results when you go from being part of a couple to suddenly single. There is a period of grief that may be different for each person.
Here is some personal finance advice, learned from experience, that may help you get back in the driver’s seat of your life after losing someone you love.
1. Take your time before making big decisions. Depending on how involved you have been in the business side of your relationship, you may feel completely overwhelmed by a flood of information and questions about the details of your financial life.
I always thought I was organized. However, much of the first year was challenging, filled with confusion and indecision. Everything—even simple things I’d been doing for years—felt new to me.
Like me, you may need to take your time as you move through the early months following the loss. Gather and file everything that looks important—insurance papers, legal documents, death certificate, credit card statements, and so on—and organize the information in a way that works for you. Whether you prefer keeping paper files or putting everything onto a computer, getting everything together can help you feel a bit more stable, especially if you haven’t formerly been involved in family finances.
2. Ask for help. Surround yourself with stellar professionals, including accountants, bankers, lawyers, insurance agents, financial planners, and friends who have expertise in any areas that might be helpful.
Listen to these experts, consider your options, and take your time making decisions. While it can be tempting to tell everything to everyone, you might feel less vulnerable if you request help from only a few trusted people.
Ask questions if you feel unsure. You won’t know everything immediately; there is a learning curve, and it takes time to become the CEO of your own life.
3. Trust yourself. Part of being single again is learning to listen to your own best judgment. Educate yourself about your finances, and understand that the first year after your loss is a springboard or foundation to a more balanced second year. So many times we don’t pay attention to details until we are forced to, and you’ll likely spend the first year building your business and financial acumen.
Be willing to ask questions when there’s something you don’t understand. There is much to learn, and you may surprise yourself with how well informed you can become. Identify your own areas of strength and build on those.
4. Take a step into the world. As you reenter the world as a single person, have some fun. Ask yourself what feels comfortable and in sync with who you are and what you believe.
As you begin once again to join friends or family for dinners out or other events, how does it feel to you to allow others to pay for you? I found that friends often picked up the check and, ultimately, that felt out of balance. Find ways to reciprocate and to create more give and take in your relationships. Everyone is finding their way through this loss, especially those couples used to being with you and your spouse.
Ultimately, time is the great healer and equalizer. Resist the temptation to compare yourself to anyone else. Years two and three will likely be different than year one. Set new goals for yourself. Review your budget, your financial commitments, and your social life, and continue moving forward towards creating a life that feels better and that has you in charge.
Diane Turner is a licensed psychotherapist, certified life coach, and author. In her book, “Heart Wisdom, A Concise Companion for Creating a Life of Possibility” (NightHorses Publishing, March 2013), Turner guides readers to acknowledge the past, focus on the present, and create what they want in their own lives through self-acceptance, personal responsibility, and focused intentions. Turner received her B.A. from Tulane University and her M.S.W. from the University of Illinois, Jane Addams School of Social Work. Her practice is based out of both Chicago and Tucson, and she has frequently lectured on “Living in Possibility,” including during regular guest appearances on Tucson’s “Circles of Change” radio show. For more information, please visit www.dianesturner.com
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