There’s no doubt about it: women live longer than men. While every one of us wants to live a long, rewarding life, the fact that we live longer also means that, sooner or later, most women are likely to become widows. It’s not something anyone wants to think about, but when it does happen, it’s vital to know what, when, and how to take care of your finances to be sure you protect your assets and get on to solid footing moving forward.
How do you even begin to go about such an overwhelming task when your life has just changed completely? As a rule, we women are incredibly strong and able to rise to the tasks ahead—no matter what they may be—but one key to success is not going it alone. Now is the time to put together your A-team.
Liz, in her mid-70s, took a fall and was in a short-term rehab facility when her husband died unexpectedly. She suddenly had to manage everything from funeral arrangements to estate planning issues—all while being stuck in a hospital bed herself. Luckily for Liz, she had a lot of help from her daughter, Emily. Not only was Emily there to help do the legwork Liz couldn’t manage herself—everything from grabbing documents from her husband’s safe deposit box to meeting with the funeral director—but Emily also advised her to get immediate help to tackle the legal and financial aspects of dealing with her husband’s death. As a longtime client of mine, Emily recommended she call me first. When Liz and I talked that day, the first thing we did was put together her A-team—a group of seven individuals who each play a critical role helping her begin her life without her husband.
Widowed or not, if you don’t already have an A-team in place, here are the seven players I recommend every woman find and recruit right away:
- Your person. The TV show Grey’s Anatomy coined the phrase, “You’re my person.” It stuck, and for good reason. Everyone needs that one person they can count on, no matter what. For Liz, her “person” was Emily. For you, it may be an adult child, colleague, neighbor, family member, or best friend. Your “person” is the one you can trust to be there when you need help and who makes you feel safe.
- Your executor, successor, or co-trustee. An executor or trustee is responsible for making sure all assets of the deceased are accounted for and transferred to the right party, and to ensure that all debts and taxes are paid. An executor is legally obligated to meet your husband’s wishes as indicated in the will or Trust, and to act in the best interest of all beneficiaries. In most cases, this will be you—the new widow. Acknowledge that you need help with this big job.
- Your attorney. I’ve had multiple clients ask, “Do I really need to pay for an attorney?” The answer: YES. While it may seem attractive to “save” legal fees by dealing with probate, estate, and trust issues yourself or by getting help from a friend, you need a professional who understands every aspect of what must be done. Ask people you trust for recommendations, and then choose the professional who feels right for you. Getting appropriate legal help will save you headaches—and money—later on.
- Your accountant. Tax strategies can play a significant role in preserving your assets following the death of your spouse. I can’t underestimate the value of a good CPA to help you protect your estate. If you don’t already have a trusted accountant, again, get recommendations from others—preferably women who have been through your situation themselves.
- Your banker. In the immediate future, you’ll need cash to maintain your lifestyle—especially if any of your assets are tied up in probate. Your banker can help you identify all available funds, give you access to available cash (note that some funds may not be accessible for some time), and help you take over your husband’s banking responsibilities.
- Your insurance agent. At the top of your to-do list will be contacting the companies with which your husband holds life insurance policies. A good insurance agent will help with much more than that. As a widow, your needs have changed. Your agent can help identify appropriate life and health insurance to be sure you—and those who depend on you—are protected.
- Your financial advisor. Just last month a new widow was referred to me by her estate planning attorney. Her first question to me: “If I have a CPA and an attorney, why do I need you?” I explained that the role of a financial advisor (myself or another) was to invest her assets appropriately, help her work through her financial to-do lists, and create an individual plan for her financial future. As a fiduciary, I would also quarterback the actions of everyone on her team on her behalf, making sure everyone is working together toward her success.Four weeks later, we’ve assessed her financial big picture, adjusted her personal portfolio (her husband’s assets have not yet been turned over to her), worked with an insurance agent to get her proper coverage now that her husband is gone, and continued working closely with her estate planning attorney. We still have a lot to do, but I know our work has already helped her gain a new level of financial confidence.
When you are a new widow, you are swirling in emotion. Yet there are so many things you must manage immediately. From obtaining death certificates to poring through legal documents, paying bills, and more, you have too much on your plate. The good news you’ve been waiting for is this: with your A-team in place, you’ll have all the help you need to increase your sense of independence and gain control over your life.
Need assistance putting your own A-team in place? Whether you’re widowed or simply want to gain better control of your entire estate, I’m happy to help you build the right team for you.