Challenges and Choices for Widows

widowThere are few things more challenging than dealing with all the choices one must make after the death of a spouse. Often the early days are filled with grief and loss, but there are an overwhelming number of decisions that must be made. In an ideal situation, a well-crafted estate plan would be in place that would minimize the number of immediate actions needed.

In any case, the surviving spouse will receive much advice, some from well-meaning friends and family. There are all too many others who seek to take advantage of the situation. There are some things you must do immediately and others that you can and should delay.

The following are things that can make the process easier and safer:

  1. Rely on close friends, family, ministers, and counselors for emotional and spiritual support.
  2. Depend on trusted professionals for financial and business matters. Your estate planning attorney can help you determine if you will also need an accountant or other professionals. Relying on friends to advise you in these areas may lead to costly mistakes. Something that worked well for a friend five or ten years ago may not work well for you now. Professionals are constantly updating their information to include the latest laws and constantly changing financial realities.
  3. Address your immediate financial situation. Determine your resources and necessary expenditures. Keep recurring expenses such as credit card payments, house and car payments, and taxes current to avoid late charges and damage to your credit rating. You must also immediately deal with your bank to determine your liquid assets. There may be unexpected changes. The bank may have frozen your joint accounts. The Social Security Administration may reclaim your spouse’s most recent Social Security deposit.
  4. Gather and organize documents such as birth, marriage and divorce certificates, titles to cars and real estate, statements for checking, savings, brokerage, and retirement accounts, and insurance policies.

Even after you have weathered the overwhelming tasks of those first months of surviving the death of your spouse, there are more decisions to be made. Many of those may wait and often should wait. Eventually you will need to decide if you want to remain in your home or sell it and relocate. You will definitely need to review investments and determine if anything needs to change. You will need to update your estate plans, budget for your new circumstances, and determine if you want to make changes in your lifestyle or activities. Perhaps it’s time reconsider charitable donations. Prioritize these decisions to determine which ones need attention first and which ones can fit on a more leisurely schedule.

No matter how many decisions or changes you face, you will handle them better with appropriate and plentiful support. It will also help to look for silver linings. Could you find you have more time to spend with grandchildren? Might you find additional purpose and meaning through volunteer work? Is there something you always wanted to do but have not yet done?

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Leigh Hilton is an ACCREDITED ESTATE PLANNER® based in Denton and serving the DFW Metroplex. Areas of practice include:
Wills, Trusts & Estates | Elder Law | Probate Law | Estate Planning