Widower: Financial Land Mines

My father died when he was 33 years of age, so I realized the importance of getting my finances in order while still young. I bought life insurance, started an IRA investment account, wrote a will, and made sure that my wife was the primary beneficiary. 

During one period (2008 – 2012) I was sure that I was going to die first due to a serious and rapidly spreading skin cancer. So, I doubled down on making sure my affairs were to ensure my wife’s ability to survive comfortably after my death. Then through a fortuitous set of circumstances, I was healed in 2012. However, my wife and I suspected that my health record was a sure indicator that I would go first.

Then suddenly in 2015, my wife passed as a result of a fast-spreading uterine cancer. I was so shocked and angry over the injustice of her early demise that I really did not think about the finances for a while. Eventually, I came out of deep grieving and realized that everything about our finances had been structured for her survival, not mine. She had no life insurance policy, her IRA was small, and I had given little thought to what I would do without her.

After getting a dozen copies of my wife’s death certificates, I began the tedious task of changing everything over to my name, including bank accounts, investment accounts, property deeds, automobiles, charge accounts, and much more. It took almost a year to find and change everything. 

Many widowers face lost spousal income, huge medical or funeral costs, or diminished assets resulting from long term care.  Some may have left financial planning to their wives, and may not know where the checkbook is, much less the investment account information. This can make the task seem overwhelming and lead to inertia or poor decisions made in haste.

Another threat can be family members who expect to receive immediate benefits in the form of estate distributions, insurance payments, or IRA account distributions. This can put tremendous emotional pressure on a widower at a time when he is ill-equipped mentally to deal with these demands. The temptation can be to give it all away and forget about their own self-interest. This, in turn, can lead to future financial challenges.

This brings me to an essential piece of advice we all have heard repeatedly, a bit of information that has proven its value over and over again for thousands of widowers: WAIT AT LEAST A YEAR BEFORE MAKING ANY MAJOR DECISIONS.

This applies to selling your house, marrying again, leaving your job, and distributing your assets. I know of many widowers who ignored this advice and paid a heavy price for it, diminishing their quality of life going forward. Sometimes we have no choice and must make these decisions before a year is up. But even then, you can still tell everyone, “Time out, I am going to take a little extra time to make this decision. You will just have to wait.” If others are putting heavy pressure on you, that is probably an indicator that you should not give in and make an immediate decision.

When it comes to your finances and re-marrying, be extra careful to allow yourself the time to explore all options. Wait until you feel that your head is on right and capable of making good decisions. I know there was a time in my deep grieving where I did not feel capable of this. Whatever you do, don’t do this alone. If you can, see a counselor and talk through the big decisions before you leap and are stuck with the results. 


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