The toughest talk

The toughest talk

Everyone loves someone. And when you go, wouldn’t you want to know you left that someone in good hands?

Trish sat down on the edge of the bed, on Pete’s side. “Never again” thoughts raced through her mind, all the things they had taken for granted that they’d never share again. In that disorienting grief, she slid open his night table drawer. There was a yellow legal pad she had never noticed before, with line after line of notes in Pete’s handwriting. She remembered how his writing had gotten smaller recently, tighter and more deliberate. What she read were dozens of small details, little oversights, clarifications that would round out the formal planning they had done together over the years. Pete was somehow still reaching through.

Like it or not, nothing’s forever

If you’re a Baby Boomer, you probably figure you’ll live forever. If you’re younger, you are sure that you will. Unfortunately, the statistics don’t prove that out. As part of a couple, one of you will be dealing with a painful loss. The question is not if. It is when. And who.

The fact is that widows make up one of the fastest-growing segments of our population, adding well over 1 million more each year. And in three-quarters of marriages, the women will outlive their spouses. At the last census, the average age of a widow in the U.S. was around 59. Among the entire over-65 population, almost 25 percent of all men and women are widowed.

As for widowers, not only are their chances much lower that they will outlive their spouses, but they also tend to have greater understanding over family finances, which means they will face fewer unknowns on that front.

But whether you and your spouse – or partner – share financial obligations or not, someone will one day find themselves alone, trying to make difficult decisions when least prepared emotionally to do so.

Facing reality

Regardless of how much financial and estate planning you have done, here are five conversations that will wipe away a lot of unknowns.

1. Growing old together. What do retirement and growing old together look like to each of you? What about lifestyle? What hopes and dreams do you each still have? You might be surprised by what you hear, but coming up with a shared vision will give all future decisions a natural strategic direction.

2. Financial date night. Revisit what has been done for financial and estate planning, and where you are on the path to being fully funded. Understand exactly what you both have in terms of debts, assets, investments – whether combined or shared. Revisiting numbers allows you to catch any life changes that might have affected your plans. Also, greater familiarity with those numbers increases everyone’s comfort with them and minimizes any surprises when those plans must be put into action.

3. The toughest conversation. Difficult as it is, talk about each other’s last wishes. (This will probably be one of the most intimate conversations a couple can have.) Then integrate those wishes into your planning by seeing your financial planner, lawyer, spiritual advisor or anyone else needed for you to be prepared.

4. Trusted advisor. Seventy percent of widows change the financial advisor they had while their husbands were alive. Most likely they were not entirely at ease with the original choice. While that could be ignored before the fact, after his death it becomes an unacceptable issue, partly because women tend to have different expectations of an advisor at that vulnerable time. Discuss the choice of advisor with one another. Then, if needed, interview new advisors who have a track record of meeting all the financial requirements as well as of supporting widows successfully through her grief and rebuilding years.

5. Planning playbook. The number of elements that need to be in place for a smooth-as-possible transition to widowhood is very high, and the greatest peace of mind comes from having some sort of thorough checklist. The internet is great for finding free checklists. In fact, we offer Curveball Planning workbooks on our website. Before life throws you an unexpected curveball, jot down your plans

In American culture, we tend to shy away from the topic of death, quickly finding a million excuses to avoid it. But this is a time of no excuses. It’s never too soon. You’re never too young.

The loss of a spouse is hard enough by itself. By being fully prepared and empowered, at least one part of that painful period can be minimized. That is the ultimate gift of preparedness.