By Sandra D. Adams, CFP
When we hear the term widow or widower, we picture someone older – someone deep into their retirement years. The reality is, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of a widow or widower in the U.S. is currently 59-years-old. In my recent experience with clients, I have seen the statistics become reality. Clients becoming widowed well before their retirement years has, unfortunately, become increasingly common. The issues involved with this major, and often unexpected, life transition are not simple and are hard to go through alone.
If you are one that is left behind, there are several action steps that should be taken to get back on your feet and feel financially secure. In most cases, this is the woman (according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 32% of women over age 65 are widowed compared to 11% of men). There is no timetable for when these steps should be taken – everyone grieves in their own time and everyone is ready in their own time to move on and make sound financial decisions at different times. No one should be pushed into making financial decisions for their new normal until they are ready.
The first step is identifying sources of income. For young widows or widowers, you may still be working, but may have lost a source of income when your spouse passed away. Looking at where income might come from now and into the future is important. For young widows, life insurance is likely the source of the replacement for lost income. If you are closer to retirement, you may also have Veteran’s benefits, employer pension benefits, savings plans, home equity, income from investments, and Social Security.
The second step is to get your financial plan organized. Get all of your documents and statements put together and review your estate documents (update them, if needed). A big part of this is to update your expenses and budget. This may take some time, as your life without your spouse may not look exactly the same as it did with him/her. Determining what your new normal looks like and what it will cost may take some time to figure out. And it won’t be half the cost (even if you don’t have children), but it won’t be 100% or more either – it will likely be somewhere in between. Figuring out how much it costs you to live goes a long way toward knowing what you will need and how you will make it all work going forward. Your financial planner can be a huge help in this area.
The third step is to evaluate your insurances (health and long-term care). These costs can be significant as you get older and it is important to make sure you have good coverage. For younger widows, those that are still working may have health insurance from their employer. If not, it is important to make sure you work with an agent to get counseling on the best coverage for you through the exchange until you are eligible for Medicare at age 65. And for long-term care, if you haven’t already worked with a financial planner to plan coverage and are now widowed – now is the time. Single folks are even more likely to need long-term care insurance than those with a partner.
The fourth step is to work on planning your future retirement income. Many widows don’t think enough about planning for their own financial future. What kinds of things should you be talking to your adviser about?
- Income needs going into retirement
- The things you would like to do in retirement/their retirement goals (travel/hobbies, etc.)
- What financial resources you have now (assets, income sources, etc.)
- Risk tolerance
- Charitable goals, family gifting goals, etc.
You can work with the adviser to design a tax-efficient retirement income plan to meet your goals with appropriate tools based on tax considerations and risk tolerances, etc.
And the fifth step is to evaluate housing options. We often tell new widows not to make big decisions, like changing homes, within the first year or two. However, many decide that they want or need to move because the house they are in is too big or they just need to make a move. Housing is roughly 40 – 45% of the average household budget – decisions need to be made with care.
For all widows, going it alone can be difficult with a lot of decisions and time spent alone. For many, it is going through the process of redesigning retirement all over again, now alone, when it was meant to be with your long-time partner. And learning to live a new normal and planning the next phase of life that looks entirely different than the one you had planned. With the help of a professional financial adviser, the financial side of things can be easier – the living part just takes time.
About the author: Sandra D. Adams
Sandra D. Adams, CFP®, can be reached at 248-948-7900, Center for Financial Planning, Inc., 24800 Denso Drive, Ste. 300, Southfield, MI 48033. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Center for Financial Planning, Inc., is not a registered broker/dealer and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services.
Raymond James and its advisers do not offer tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. Any opinions are those of Sandra D. Adams and not necessarily those of Raymond James.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete the CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.