One crisp and clear spring morning, Lily’s husband set off to work commuting into New York City. Unfortunately, her 57-year-old husband never came home. During his commute, Dan suffered a massive heart attack that was fatal.
Understandably, Lily was distraught. At only 53, Lily did not expect such a sudden loss and had many concerns about providing for her twin teenage girls. Lily admitted that the first six months were a vortex of overwhelming and inescapable pain. Lily struggled to make financial decisions complaining of a brain fog that was so powerful that it felt like she was intoxicated at times. Recalls Lily, “Beyond meeting our day-to-day needs, I just ignored the finances. However, it did not mean I was not worried. I most worried that my girls wouldn’t have the college education and head start in life that my husband and I wanted for them. Despite my constant concern, I did not have the mental capacity to do anything else but make it through each day.”
According to Cindy Kasovitz Sichel, LCSW, a psychotherapist in New York City for over 30 years, Lily is not alone. Sichel shares, “Many people mistakenly believe that grief only impacts your emotions, but that is not the case. Grief is a powerful response to a loss that impacts us in many ways after a personally painful or traumatic event. It is common knowledge that grief can affect us emotionally, but few realize that the loss of a spouse also causes physical and mental symptoms.”
During this time, common physical grief responses include mental sluggishness. Grief can be exhausting, leaving people feeling tired, weak, and not at their best. Sichel continues, “It is typically not the best time to make important financial decisions that cannot be reversed. Instead, it is better to take some time and assemble a support system to help you navigate through this painful time.”
Put Together a Team
Your support system may include your family, close friends, and licensed mental health professionals. This support team should also have a fee-only, fiduciary financial advisor specializing in working with widows like yourself.
Alexandra Shepis, CFP®, CDFA®, is a financial advisor working at Francis Financial and brings her own loss experience to her work. Shepis shares, “If you are overwhelmed, if you are afraid, or if you are concerned about your finances, find the ideal financial advisor. They will be a sounding board and team member to help you navigate settling your spouse’s estate and building a financial future that gives you comfort, knowledge, and security.”
The financial burdens that come with the loss of your spouse are immense. Your financial advisor can do a significant amount of the heavy lifting to help settle your spouse’s estate. They can help with filing for life insurance benefits and applying for social security widow’s benefits. In addition, a good financial advisor will take care of transferring assets to your name, closing accounts, updating beneficiaries, updating property casualty and health insurance coverage, and helping protect you from making any mistakes.
Once the immediate financial pieces are completed, a comprehensive financial planner will build a detailed financial road map showing your new economic reality. They will give you recommendations to ensure that your long-term financial security is intact.
Don’t Make Any Immediate Big Changes.
Shepis, a financial advisor with Francis Financial recommends avoiding the added stress of any other significant changes as you grieve, if possible. It is best to keep the various aspects of your life as stable as you can while your grief is so fresh. For example, a financial decision that isn’t time-sensitive should be put off until you’re feeling less emotionally vulnerable. Then, there will be plenty of time to decide if you want to make changes to your life in the future. Be sure to give yourself space and time as you consider significant life shifts, such as moving, changing your career, returning to work, or selling substantial assets. Experts suggest that you give yourself at least six months before making any profound changes.
Taking Care of Yourself Emotionally and Financially
The most important thing you can do is to take care of yourself while you are grieving. Amid all the pain and difficulty that losing a spouse brings, healing exists. The Merrill/Age Wave research found that 77% of the widows and widowers interviewed said they discovered courage they never knew they had. Lily, who suddenly lost her husband, shares that her strength came from “connecting with other loved ones, working to make positive new memories and easing my anxiety about the future by getting the right team of professionals in place to support the girls and me.”
Shepis, has extensive experience finally advising women in transitions such as widowhood and shares, “From the beginning of their loss, women must help finalize the estate and plan for their financial future. A small bit of positive news is that being forced to deal with paying bills, reviewing assets, and taking control of the finances can have some positive long-term benefits.” The Merrill/Age Wave research referenced above also found that most widows and widowers (72%) say they now consider themselves more financially savvy than other people their age.