Nothing is simple, straightforward, or intuitive when a spouse passes away. This challenging and trying time leaves many people assuming roles and responsibilities they never could have foreseen like heading both legal and financial obligations in their households.
The stress of impending to-do lists compounded by immeasurable grief can be incredibly overwhelming. That’s why it’s critical to seek support and guidance to help you navigate this difficult terrain.
Our goal at TFS is to be a trusted beacon throughout all of life’s transitions. We work to bring clarity and confidence, even in painful moments, and help you chart a path forward. Today, we are going to explore four ways to help ease the transition for widows who are newly becoming the CFO of their households.
1. Take Stock of Your Accounts
Perhaps one of the most disorienting elements of financial planning is sorting through the many moving pieces. These elements become even more obscured when a spouse passes away. For those who are taking the lead in their financial lives for the first time, start by acquainting yourself with the accounts you have, where they are located, and the titling status.
- Bank accounts
- Do you have separate, joint, or both types of accounts? Did you bank at the same location? Do you need/want to transfer your funds, CDs, money market accounts, etc?
- Update the titles on any joint accounts. If you had separate bank accounts, you’ll need to close/transfer the one in your spouse’s name.
- Investment accounts
- Retirement accounts (401k, IRA, Roth, etc.), brokerage accounts, pension, real estate, and other investments. Where are these located? Do you have the passwords and login details? How can you make yourself the owner of the accounts?
- Contact your late spouse’s employer.
- If your spouse was still working, it will be important to gather information on their pension, 401(k), life insurance policies, health savings account, and other financial matters facilitated by the company.
- Insurance policies
- File claims for life and health insurance.
- Update the titling information on auto, homeowner, and any other property policies.
- Credit cards
- It’s essential to close credit card accounts that were just under your spouse’s name. You’ll also want to request a credit history to ensure you are aware of any outstanding debts.
- Keep in mind that if your spouse was the primary cardholder and you were an authorized user, the account becomes invalid at the time of the primary card holder’s death.
- Debts and loans
- Gather any information on outstanding debts like mortgage debt, auto loans, student loans, personal loans, etc.
You’ll also need to check in on other accounts like utilities, internet, and phone services. If your spouse is the primary name on the account, you will either need to transfer it to yours or cancel it.
While this list may seem overwhelming, once you are confident in the accounts you have, their location, and titling status, you’ll be in a much stronger position moving forward.
2. Build Your Team of Professionals
Even though you are leading your household finances, that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Curating the right professional support can help bring direction and clarity to this situation. Your team will help you organize your accounts and ensure that each piece is in order. Who should be on your team? Here is an idea for a starting line up:
- Financial advisor
- Investment manager (if different from your advisor)
- CPA or other tax professional
- Estate planning attorney
- Corporate lawyer (for those who own their own business)
- Insurance broker
Since your finances comprise many moving parts, you must build a team that can coordinate each piece of your financial plan. While your investments may seem completely different from your tax return, they actually have a deeply interconnected relationship. When you create a team that can help manage those unique connections, you will have a more seamless, united, and holistic experience.
Not sure if you have all the right people? At TFS, we can help you build your financial team with our network of trusted professionals. We see ourselves as the quarterback of your financial plan, building, and leading the team to help you pursue your goals. Your financial plan should be conscious and coordinated, and the right team can help you do that.
It’s also valuable to have a team of professionals when you are assuming these responsibilities for the first time. Amid grief, it can be a comfort to take some of the financial, legal, and bureaucratic work off of your plate.
3. Evaluate Your Immediate Needs
With a to-do list a mile long, it’s difficult to know where to start. Our advice? Take some time to prioritize your list and only focus on your immediate needs. Ask yourself,
- Have you requested a death certificate? This document is needed to file insurance claims, claim survivor Social Security benefits, make changes to accounts, plan the funeral, and make progress on other legal affairs.
- What expenses need to be settled first? Perhaps there are outstanding taxes or credit card bills that should be attended to first. Other expenses like transferring your mortgage might take more time and coordinated effort with your financial team.
- Are you taking care of your emotional wellbeing? The death of a spouse precipitates a chain reaction of paperwork, phone calls, and meetings, but in all that chaos, it’s critical to take care of yourself and your wellbeing. Lean on your loved ones, family, and friends when you need support. Remember, you aren’t going through this alone, and giving yourself the time and space to grieve is just as necessary (if not more so) than the financial and legal ramifications.
For most people, it’s best to take this process one step at a time. By assuming too much too quickly, important elements could slip through the cracks. Our team is here to help you make a plan for your new financial situation and your loved ones are also there to help you find your footing. Give yourself the grace to care for your immediate needs first.
4. Press Pause On Major Financial Decisions
While you may want to rush to sell your family home or head on a plane to a far off land, sometimes the greatest gift you can give yourself is to not do anything. In the prime season of grief, it’s not often prudent to make significant and impactful financial and personal decisions.
Focus on learning the ropes of your family finances, not charting a new course. We find that putting off major financial decisions for 1-2 years is helpful for many widows as they become accustomed to their “new normal.” You want to build a support system and have a steady foundation to grow into this new season of your life.
Leading your household finances is a momentous undertaking, especially for those who haven’t been in this position before. Our team at TFS, your group of trusted professionals, and your loved ones are there to support and guide you, helping usher you into this new phase of life.
When it comes to money, take it one step at a time. Several items need to be attended to, but when you approach it with careful consideration, you will find a greater sense of peace and control. We want to help your money become a source of empowerment in your life.
Contact our team to learn more about how we can help you lead your finances with purpose and confidence.