I’m a member of the club women hate to join — the Widows Club.

When my husband died, it felt like a big part of me died, too. I lost the love of my life and the dreams we shared for our future. All gone in an instant and right after my 60th birthday.

I share this identity with more than 12 million American women. We are one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population, as about 1 million women a year experience this heart-breaking event. Worldwide, the staggering estimate of widows is over 250 million.

 
 

In early widowhood, a widow’s grief can feel like a brain freeze. For many new widows, memory is weak, attention span is short and decision making is down-right difficult.

That sure was me. I couldn’t remember where I put my car keys or even my Social Security number. I wondered if I was going crazy or getting Alzheimer’s! I wasn’t. I was just in the first stage of widowhood.

Many widows aren’t as familiar with investing, insurance, taxes and estate planning, as their late husbands were. Even if their knowledge of financial matters is good, their widow’s brain emotional stress is raw. It’s a very difficult time.

Below are suggestions to help widows avoid mistakes, especially in early widowhood.

Don’t Rush to Make Major Irrevocable Money Decisions

When you’re in the midst of grief, your brain functions differently. Wait until your thinking returns to normal before making important decisions.

For example, don’t buy or sell investments you don’t understand. Rather, hold steady and review your sources of money coming in and going out. Pay your regular bills, file for death benefits, and keep enough cash available.

Save major decisions for later. For example, if you receive a life insurance death payment, deposit this in a short-term savings account. Then think about how you need to use this money before you invest or spend it all. You may also want to download this helpful free eBooklet from my website, Financial Steps for Recent Widows.

Beware of Financial Wolves Who Prey on Widows

Unethical salespeople may take advantage of women after their partner dies. My elderly widowed aunt was sold Iraqi dinars (Iraq currency) by “a nice young man” who was her friend’s nephew. He convinced her that she would double her money with this investment. But, my aunt never received one penny back. New widows are especially vulnerable, so be careful.

Make House Decisions Wisely

Your house may feel lonely after your spouse’s death. You may be tempted to sell and move right away — perhaps to live with an adult child in a different community. But then you’ll miss your friends, other social contacts, medical providers, and nearby faith community. You could be hit with secondary grief if you relocate too soon.

Some widows who stay in their house pay off the mortgage immediately with death benefits they receive. Or they redecorate lavishly. Wait! Keep this cash available while making decisions about your new life ahead. Eventually you may change houses, but keep your options open for the near-term.

Review Your Finances

When you’re thinking more clearly, review your investments to see what adjustments you need. What was good for you and your husband before might not be the best now. A common question new widows ask is “Do I have enough money?” Understanding your financial net worth (the value of what you own minus your outstanding debts) and your income sources and expenses will be helpful.

Family or friends may give you advice without knowing your entire situation. Practice saying, “Thanks for your suggestions. I’ll take your ideas into consideration. But first I need to decide what my longer-term goals are.”

You may benefit from unbiased guidance from a “thinking partner” who can evaluate your financial position with you to provide objective, comprehensive suggestions. Find an advisor you trust, who listens with empathy and respect. Your advisor should be experienced in working with widows and have an accepted professional designation.

Don’t Be a Purse for Others

Widows may be approached by family members requesting money. For example, a widow’s son asked her to invest in a new business he wanted to start, however, he didn’t have any ideas about getting customers to pay for his services. Don’t give in to pressure like this.

If you date again later, be careful about a romantic partner who sees you as a potential purse with money for him. Keep money matters to yourself, at least until you know the other person very well.

Additional ABCs for New Widows

Always ask questions about your money matters. How does this investment fit my goals? Why is your recommendation good for me? What are my other choices? What are the fees and expenses?

Buyer beware. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Care for yourself, with enjoyable, inexpensive activities. For example, take a yoga or exercise class, meet a girlfriend for tea, get a manicure, attend a free concert or art festival, buy a new lipstick, read an interesting book, write your thoughts in a pretty journal, or mediate. And eat some healthy, delicious and fragrant dark chocolate!

If you are a widow, what advice would you give other new widows about avoiding big financial mistakes? What money mistakes did you make when shaping a new life after your partner’s death? Please share your comments and let’s start a conversation.

Kathleen RehlKathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, CeFT™ is passionate about inspiring her “widowed sisters” and their advisors through her speaking, writing and research. She wrote the award winning book, “Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows.” Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, CNBC and more.

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