The death of a spouse takes an emotional, mental, physical, and financial toll. Many experts recommend that a surviving partner take their time in making big changes and decisions. This applies to financial planning. To help you find the right timing for your financial decision-making, here are a few steps to take and why it's vital to take them in the right order.
1. Financial Triage
Immediately after the death of a loved one and in the early days of rebuilding your life, don't take any unnecessary financial steps.
This is a time for what's known as financial triage. These are necessary adjustments to prevent any financial bleeding and prevent more damage. It may include things like paying off very high-interest debts, combining accounts, paying current bills, and keeping a roof over your head.
2. Information Gathering
The next phase is to gather all the necessary data you'll need to make future decisions wisely. It may be relatively quick if your spouse was organized or if you both participated in most financial activities together.
However, you may need to spend time looking for information about assets and debts as well as insurance. And you'll need to take the appropriate steps to get access to or combine all accounts.
3. Getting Help
Professional financial planning assistance may be vital during this period of flux. Were you the one handling financial matters for the family or was your spouse? If you aren't familiar with all the ins and outs of financial decisions, seek out a trained and skilled professional planner. They'll help with things like adjusting savings goals, planning for retirement, and creating a budget for your new income.
4. Short-Term Planning
Next comes setting up yourself for success in the short term. Set short- and medium-term financial goals like shoring up your savings, living on a budget appropriate to your means, and taking over decisions your partner may have made. Think of these as decisions that will affect you for the next few years.
5. Long-Term Care
Finally, look at your long-term financial goals. For most widows and widowers, retirement is the biggest long-term issue that looms. How has your retirement changed since your spouse passed? Do you have the same goals? Are your resources bigger or smaller? And what options do you now have?
In addition, this is the time to consider more serious changes like moving or downsizing, traveling, or changing career paths.
Where to Start
If you find yourself unsure how to move forward financially after the loss of a loved one, start by meeting with a professional financial planner. They'll work with you to find the right time for triage, data gathering, short-term planning, and long-term assessments.