Losing your spouse can be a critical moment in your life, during which you’ll need support from friends and family and plenty of time to heal. You’ll also want to rally a trusted team of experts who can help a new widow through new and probably unwelcome territory.
You may already have a professional and personal support network, which is a great start, but it’s important to identify any gaps in your support community and then engage professionals you trust to educate and empower you.
So, where do you begin? Here’s a look at some of the most important professionals you need on your team and the roles they’ll play in your life.
A financial adviser is one of the most trusted members of your team. The person you choose should be a fiduciary, fee-only adviser. Many widows already have a relationship with a financial adviser upon their spouse’s death, but end up moving to another adviser who feels like a better fit.
According to some estimates, over 80% of widows change from the financial adviser originally chosen by their spouse. In many cases, the adviser had a relationship with the deceased spouse and never fully involved the female half in the financial-planning and investing processes.
Your financial adviser can help sort out your immediate financial issues, such as settling portions of an estate, but their main purpose is to help you plan your long-term financial future. For example, you may need to reallocate your investments.
Although it may be tempting to leave your investment accounts allocated exactly as they were when your spouse was alive, this move may not be in your best interest. You’ll have differing financial concerns as a widow than you did as a couple. You may want to consider downsizing, moving closer to grandchildren or even pursuing a new career. All of these changes will necessitate input from a financial planner to see how your new life will work best, financially.
Make certain that you start by interviewing only financial advisers who are fiduciaries, who will always act in your best interest and give you independent, unbiased advice. A certified financial planner who is competent, trustworthy and understands your unique needs and goals can help you get your new financial life on track.
Estate Planning Attorney
It’s a good idea to hire an accredited lawyer in your area whose primary focus is estate and trust law. Finding the right attorney may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Your financial planner will likely have many trusted relationships with estate planning lawyers, and they can introduce you to a professional in your area.
Alternatively, you can reach out to friends and family for recommendations, or visit the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils website and the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website to find a reputable estate planner in your state.
It is also vital to locate your spouse’s original will and make an appointment to review it with your lawyer. If you cannot locate the original will, the estate planning lawyer who drafted your documents may be able to help you.
Also, discuss with your attorney any state and federal estate taxes that are due. Be sure to also ask about any unforeseen one-time death-related expenses. Your attorney will also help you with estate court filings, creditor notifications and asset distributions, making the process as easy and straightforward as possible.
Therapist, Grief Counselor or Other Mental Health Professional
In addition to addressing your financial future, your emotional and mental health is of paramount importance. The loss of a spouse can be one of the most emotionally wrenching life events we face, next only to the loss of a child. Not only did you lose your life partner, but also the future that you had planned together.
Grief counseling, also known as bereavement counseling, can be pivotal in helping you cope with your spouse’s death. A good grief counselor will provide a safe space to discuss your feelings, while helping you to develop tools and strategies to get through this difficult time and to heal.
Loss & Grief Specialist Diane Brennan suggests, “Working with a counselor is beneficial to widows as they navigate grief and find ways to rebuild their lives post-loss. Both individual counseling sessions and support groups can be useful to introduce tools for grieving. Individual counseling gives personalized attention and a private space to work through all of the emotions and feelings relating to the loss, while support groups provide widows a place to connect with others who ‘get it’ in a safe place. For most widows, the grief never completely disappears, although with time (and counseling), it does become less sharp and stops getting in the way of future happiness.”
Grief affects everyone differently, and at different times. It’s important not to go through this alone! Your estate planning attorney and financial advisers can probably steer you in the direction of a professional experienced in grief counseling.
Psychology Today’s online database is also a good tool when searching for a mental health professional to support you.
Stacy is a nationally recognized financial expert and the President and CEO of Francis Financial Inc., which she founded 15 years ago. She is a Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) who provides advice to women going through transitions, such as divorce, widowhood and sudden wealth. She is also the founder of Savvy Ladies™, a nonprofit that has provided free personal finance education and resources to over 15,000 women.
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