Experiencing sudden change can be difficult in many respects. That is why it is often beneficial to seek help and guidance from those that can lend support, whether emotional, financial, or merely practical. Experiencing widowhood is no different. With widowhood comes short-term tasks that must be managed during a time in which you are going through the grieving process. Moreover, even after these short-term tasks are completed, you may find yourself having to become an expert in many issues that your spouse previously dealt with. If you have a parent or close friend entering widowhood, then this article may help and encourage you to provide the proper support, where needed.
With both the short-term and long-term tasks in front of you, you will benefit tremendously by seeking and accepting help from your support network in many situations. The support network will likely include both friends and family, as well as professionals.
Many of the short-term tasks, while requiring professionals, may be best done with someone in your personal network – friends and family. These short-term tasks may be more personal or administrative in nature and do not necessarily need expertise. While having at least one person close by can be instrumental, do not be afraid to lean on someone not in your hometown.
Some of the short-term tasks may include the following:
- Funeral. Someone should be available to help you meet the funeral director, set the funeral arrangements, and review or negotiate the associated costs. While a professional funeral director will generally be needed, a very close friend or family member is critical here.
- Communications and hospitality. Initially, communicating with friends and family as well as the local newspaper about the recent death can be a huge burden that is lifted off of your shoulder. Thereafter, helping to send or coordinate the sending of thank you cards to all of those individuals that provided support can be meaningful to you while providing some peace of mind.
- Estate matters. For reasonably sized estates, administering the estate will generally require the use of a professional. The will and/or trust documents should be reviewed to see who was named as personal representative or executor. If you were named, do not be afraid to have a family member or friend help you with the administrative process and to help you hire the right professional to help you administer the estate. This will likely be an attorney or CPA with experience in these matters. Note that just because a professional or corporate trust department was named in the document does not necessarily mean that you cannot remove that individual or institution.
- Grieving. This is not so much as a task as a state of being. The grieving process is a natural process, and you will likely receive support from several friends and family members as well as your pastor. In the short-term, do not be afraid to share your thoughts with them. A good consoler will do more listening than anything. Keep in mind that consolers may be inexperienced themselves. You may need to be patient with them (as they are with you) and understand that consolers may be leery of over-communicating with you. If so and if you find yourself needing more support, do not be afraid to ask reach out to share.
- Assisting with children. If you have young children, you may need babysitters more often than not. Getting assistance from family members – rather than the occasional babysitter – may be especially critical during this time. Do not be afraid to ask for help. A professional therapist that specializes in grief for children may also be beneficial even in the short-term.
Longer-term tasks may include the following:
- Managing the major physical assets of the family (physical structure of the home and your car). Getting a close family member or friend to do an assessment of your home will be important. Your spouse may have handled much of the management of these physical assets and may have merely kept a mental list of what has been done and what needs to be done. After the initial assessment, it will then be important to get a short list of professionals that you could go to when needed: HVAC technician, plumber, general handyman, auto mechanic. Ideally, you will continue to use the same professionals that you previously used, if any. However, if you move, it will be important to get solid recommendations from others in these areas.
- Managing all things financial (understanding your cash flow (income and expenses), bill pay, investment management). While friends and family members may be able to help provide some guidance, you may need to get the help of a financial professional to help guide you in these areas. If your spouse and you previously used a financial advisor, that might be a place to start. However, if you did not have a relationship with an advisor or if you are not sure if they have experience in working with widows, then it probably makes sense to find an advisor that you would be a good match with. We believe that hiring a fee only financial advisor or planner will provide the objective advice that widows need; a commissioned advisor or broker that receives indirect compensation or gets hefty commissions may not be working in your best interest even though they dress and sound the part. Fee only advisors can be found at Garrett Planning Network, Association of Comprehensive Planners, or National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. Oasis Wealth Planning Advisors is a member of all three associations.
- Income Taxes. Your spouse may have prepared the income taxes. If so and if you have no desire to take on this responsibility, hiring a CPA or Enrolled Actuary (EA) to prepare your taxes is likely money well spent. There are some tax-focused financial planners that may also have the skills to prepare taxes. In that case, using your financial planner may be a more efficient means of getting your taxes prepared.
- Grieving. The grieving process is not merely a 2-week process. It is important to understand that this process can last a few months to several months. Continuing to get support from your personal network will be important. A professional therapist that specializes in grief counseling may be especially beneficial. These individuals are trained in these matters. While your personal network will be good-intentioned, a professional may provide the healing that you are looking for and it may slightly accelerate the healing process to allow you to visualize the future with more confidence.
- Technology. We live in a technological world, and dealing with technology can be one of the most frustrating things for widows. Whether it is the computer, smart phone, home audio, or home security, technology can significantly improve our lives. If your spouse was the “chief technology officer” of the family, then initially seek guidance from your personal support network for an initial assessment or guidance. You may want to eventually rely on professionals for this support, but be cautious of signing up for annual contracts if you do not use them. If all else fails, your eight-year old grandchild may be able to help!
- Estate Planning. You may or may not need wills or trusts written or updated. An attorney that specializes in this area should be consulted. You may wish to use the attorney that helped administer your spouse’s estate, or you can select another attorney. Your financial planner, friend, or family member may help you choose the attorney and help walk you through that process.
Getting the help we need at various junctures in our lives may help provide peace of mind, more confidence, increased safety, reduce costs, and better financial results. With loved ones nearby and professional experts, the support network is there if you are willing to seek it out.