Financial Advice for Widows: What to Do Before You Remarry
I’m part of a fast-growing demographic group – women baby boomers who enter a new phase of life after the death of our husbands. It’s true that the average age a wife becomes a widow in the United States is 59.4 and 70% of all married baby boomer wives will experience widowhood.
Many years ago, when a woman’s husband died, she went into mourning – sometimes wearing black “widow’s weeds” for a year or more. Generally, she remained alone after that year or perhaps moved into an adult child’s home.
That was the case with my great grandmother. She lived with her adult daughter and son-in-law after her husband died. And then when my grandmother became a widow, both she and my great grandmother (her mother) moved in with my parents, me and two young brothers – four generations living together for many years in a little house with only one bathroom!
New Choices for a New Generation of Widows
Widows today certainly have more choices – where we will live, what we want to experience in life, and whether we want to share this new life with another partner. Indeed, in a recent international study of nearly 4,000 widowed persons (to be published next February), only 46% of the women who became a widow at age 60 or older said they don’t plan to date in the future. The other 54% want to date or are already dating, have entered a committed long-term relationship, or have remarried.
In this multi-faceted study, more than 500 widows who remarried or repartnered gave valuable advice for other women thinking about a similar step in the future. While each widow’s situation is unique, here are some words of advice from many women in the study:
Discuss Finances with Your New Partner
“Communication is the key to a successful relationship! Talk about all expectations and hide nothing. Make sure you’re both on the same page with financial issues.”
“Discuss all financial matters openly and honestly.”
“Before beginning to live together, you should have candid discussions about who pays for what, will you merge finances, etc. Hoping things will “work out” on their own is not a sound basis to begin a life together.”
“Talk about financial issues ahead of time to make sure you have the same views and goals financially.”
“Speak openly, determine your soon-to-be spouse’s attitude towards saving and investing.”
“I didn’t bring up the money stuff because I thought it would hurt our relationship before we married. Boy, was I wrong. We had big disagreements later.”
“Ask about your partner’s credit score, debt and finances.”
“Talk, talk, and talk some more about life goals, financial plans, etc.”
Take Time to Understand the Implications of Your New Relationship
“Educate yourself so you feel confident about making your own financial decisions.”
“Always be involved in your finances. Know everything going out and coming in. Don’t get complacent. Stay informed.”
“Be careful with you finances. Do not allow anyone to take advantage of you because you are lonely or sad. Put yourself first always.”
“Take your time in a new relationship; it takes a few years to see where the other person is and how they handle money and how they will stand beside you if you have a financial crisis.”
“Understand each other’s financial stability and responsibility where money is concerned. Who pays for what?”
“In regards to marriage; be very aware of what benefits you can lose. Educate yourself. Don’t put what your deceased spouse worked so hard for at risk.”
“Check out the other person’s major medical problems. You may not want to take care of another person again.”
“I didn’t know he was going to retire soon after we got married. That changed our financial picture a lot.”
“Make sure your spouse has a source of income for himself. Also, make sure you have similar financial goals.”
“Best for me is keeping my finances separate. Think this is important for all women to have money in their own name.”
Get Trusted Guidance from Qualified Professionals
“Get financial counseling together with your new partner before getting married.”
“Keep it to ‘yours-mine-ours.’ Protect your children’s interest. Do a pre-nup.”
“Consult a lawyer and draw up very clear documents, and absolutely insist on a prenuptial agreement if considering remarriage. Let your family know.”
“Talk with a financial planner and tax professional if you can.”
“Have a will prepared with specifics for where you want the money to go and what your desires are with children. I specifically am having problems related to his step children and ex-wife.”
“Always protect yourself and your family first, in case you need to be on your own again.”
If you’ve experienced widowhood, or know a relative or friend who is a widow, what advice would you share with other women contemplating remarriage or entering a long-term relationship? What would you add to the suggestions above? What other financial advice for widows do you have? Please join the conversation.
Kathleen 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.