Facing Life Without Him

The emotional tragedy of widowhood can be compounded by poor financial decisions

“I’m managing, but i miss Joseph,” says Edwina Littlepage, whose husband of nearly 30 years died almost a year ago. As if the emotional toll of losing a spouse isn’t difficult enough, there are also financial pressures. “Not only did I have to learn the lay of the land, I had to pay for it,” she adds.

Her husband, who was 60 when he died, handled the family finances, making investment decisions and paying the mortgage and utilities. A retiree, he liked managing the money, which allowed Littlepage to concentrate on operating two day-care centers she owns in Oklahoma City. Because her husband also oversaw her business finances, Littlepage has hired a payroll company and is working closely with a certified public accountant.

Unlike many widows, Littlepage’s life insurance proceeds were adequate, so she’s not struggling to pay the bills. Littlepage’s challenge, however, is to get a grasp on her financial life. After her husband died, she had to search for key financial records and documents. She’s still trying to reconfigure a filing system for paying bills and maintaining records.

As a result, Littlepage hired a financial planner to help guide her through the investment process and other money matters. Even though her husband passed without writing a will, it didn’t cause major difficulties because the couple’s assets were held in joint tenancy. Littlepage has been engaged, however, in more comprehensive estate planning to help simplify matters for her children in the event of her death.

In short, Littlepage is putting her life back together.

WHEN THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS
Half of all women become widowed by 65, and the average age of a widow is 56, says Kathleen Williams, president of Oklahoma City-based Williams Financial Services Group Inc. “As women age, the road to poverty begins after their husbands die,” says Williams.

Most couples never seem to get around to having the often unpleasant discussion about death and money. However, you’ll need to put your hands on documents such as life insurance policies, Social Security cards, bank and brokerage statements, and other materials to establish benefit claims. “It could take a few days to a few weeks for an insurance claim to be processed, so you might have to go a period without money,” says Deena Katz, a certified financial planner with Evensky Brown & Katz in Coral Gables, Florida.

Anticipate hassles. You’ll need to get a copy of your husband’s death certificate, especially if you need to gain access to bank and investment accounts in his name. And if his name is on car insurance, homeowner’s policies, and other such documents, you’ll need to put those in your name as well.

ASSESS YOUR FINANCES
Once you’ve gathered all your documents, you can begin to make sense of your financial situation and how much money you have to manage. “On average, a widow receives $25,000 — $30,000 in insurance proceeds that typically last three to five months,” says Williams. And for those who are fortunate to receive more, there’s often confusion about how best to use the money, she adds.
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