Becoming a widow is about going from “two” to “one.”
Granted, you’re surrounded by loved ones. By children, family and well-intentioned friends
But it’s unlikely that anyone in that group can fill one of the most cherished roles of the one you lost: that of a trusted guide.
From the early moments of becoming a widow through the stages of grief, growth, and transformation, how wonderful it would be to have access to that one person who could always finish your sentences. The one who knew what was important to you and what wasn’t. The one who knew the questions to ask, as well as most of the answers.
Barring that, how can you fill the gap?
The best solution could be to have a dream team – a professional dream team.
Ideally, you would have identified the team members and started building a trusted relationship long before you needed them. That’s not always possible, but hopefully, you already have one or two members in place.
What you’re looking for is people “who have your back.”
One member of your team is your attorney.
This is the person who, early on, will help you walk through the probate process. You may be tempted to handle your husband’s estate yourself if you are executor, especially if you worked together to set the estate up.
But, it is a relatively mechanical process, one which your attorney can handle, asking only for input from you if any questions arise. And meanwhile, you can be focusing on getting a stable footing under yourself and moving forward on the non-legal side of life.
Your attorney can also update your estate planning documents to reflect your new circumstances. It’s too easy to leave those changes for later, but they are best handled right away, so there’s no chance of forgetting … and later regretting. That would include your will, living will, and any powers of attorney. Your attorney’s clear-eyed review will also catch anything you may have overlooked. And you will know the legal aspects have been handled completely and well.
Another member of your team is your CPA.
It will likely take a Certified Public Accountant to unravel the tax implications of death and inheritance. Some benefits are taxable, and others are not. And some tax filing deadlines for estates may vary from those for regular personal and business filings. You don’t want to miss one, and an early appointment with your CPA can ensure you won’t.
In the short term, your CPA can help you maximize deductions and organize upcoming tax obligations. And in the longer term, you can get the help needed to understand how the death of a spouse affects tax structures, Social Security, Medicare, capital gains and so many other aspects. Some refer to the phenomenon as the “Widow’s Penalty,” and it can seriously affect your future finances. Your CPA can help you minimize it.
The third member of your team is your financial advisor.
This may be the team member that has the most significant influence on your ability to ensure a secure financial future. No matter how well you and your spouse planned, a review by a trusted advisor that follows the actual estate transaction (handled by your attorney) and initial tax filing (managed by your CPA) can be invaluable. Any needed modifications can be put in place, from updated budgeting to long-term income generation.
Beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts will have to be updated, for example. Any changes to your goals and dreams can be factored into investment choices as the reality of your new solo existence sets in. (Things looked at from the prism of “half-a-couple” may look very different from your new perspective.)
And, while it may be hard to see, working with an advisor who you know-like-and-trust can create new opportunities by merely rearranging the assets you already have.
As early as you can, carefully select the 3-pronged team that has your back as you implement the practical steps of going from “two” to “one”.
You want to know you are safe – and that you can be free to take the emotional steps that are part of the same process.