Facing Life Without Him

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

like divorce, widowhood often leads to a change in lifestyle. You will likely have to make adjustments to reach your long-term financial goals. If you and your spouse had a household budget, you should revise it to reflect the change in income. If there’s a significant gap, you may need to consider part-time work or a second job. Depending on your age, you may have to adjust your retirement plans and college financing for your children.

SLOW DOWN
What you don’t want to do, say financial pros, is rush into any major life decisions. Unless your situation is dire, you should probably wait six months to a year before you consider selling the house, moving, or any other such steps.

Don’t move so fast to pay off his debts. Realize that you are not responsible for your husband’s debts before marriage. “Creditors might try to make you pay but know your rights,” asserts Ginita Wall, a San Diego-based certified financial planner and director of the Women’s Institute for Financial Education (www.WIFE.org).

One top priority: Determine whether you need life insurance. If you have no dependents then it’s not an issue. If you do, you need coverage, or you may need to increase it if the sole responsibility for caring for children or other relatives falls on you. Because your husband’s income is now unavailable, you will need to review your health insurance coverage and consider disability and long-term care policies–especially if you’re in your 50s. “Realize that you may live a long time and you don’t want to be a burden,” says Katz. “Long-term insurance gives you more choices and flexibility.”

KEEP YOUR HEAD ABOVE EMOTIONAL WATERS
Avoid the feeding frenzy. As a widow, you’re vulnerable–and financial predators know it. You may get all sorts of surprise visitors, such as realtors, urging you to sell your home because they can get you a load of money, or financial gurus trying to get you to buy the latest and greatest investments with insurance proceeds.

As tough as it may be, it’s important to get over the feeling of guilt that often accompanies widowhood. It can lead to major financial mistakes. “One widow whose husband had died in an accident and gotten a huge settlement felt so guilty that she did everything to try and get rid of the money, giving it to the surviving children and charity. Such behavior is to your own detriment. That money has to last,” says Wall, who also serves as an advisory board member for the GE Center For Financial Learning (www.financiallearning.com).

PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE
Rethink your estate plan. Update your will and other documents in which your husband is a beneficiary. You will also need to give someone else your durable power of attorney, which will permit him or her to make decisions about your financial matters or, in some cases, healthcare if you’re incapacitated.

Furthermore, if you haven’t been much of an investor, get off the sidelines. You’re likely to live a long, healthy life, and you don’t want to outlive your

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