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When Money Isn’t Just Money

| September 25, 2018
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Repetition-Worthy Advice for Widows

  • Make sure your bills are paid so you can keep your good credit. (Don’t pay your husband’s bills from your part of the estate.)
  • Get your financial documents in order.
  • Know where your money is.
  • Seek the help of trusted professionals.
  • And, when it comes to major decisions, GO SLOWLY.

There’s a reason why this counsel is often repeated: It’s just plain GOOD advice. 

But, as I’ve often said, money is about more than money. Especially when your whole world has just been rocked by the death of your spouse. And while any good financial advisor will certainly have conversations with you that feature more technical terms (like income buckets, budgeting, liquid reserves, capital gains, taxes, homestead exemptions, social security, healthcare benefits and portfolio)*, there’s another deeply personal conversation that has to happen first.

The Critical Question

When you lose a spouse, suddenly all the financial responsibility that once balanced on two sets of shoulders lands squarely on yours alone. Even if you were always your family’s “Chief Financial Officer,” you still had a second person there who could serve as a sounding board and sometimes even a guardrail of sorts.  

Now you’re alone, the guardrail is down, and you’re caught up in a whirlwind of mixed emotions. In your desperation to “just keep driving,” it can be easy to veer off course, to get swept off the road to your future by rash spending decisions that your future self may someday look back on as attempts to put a Band-Aid over the hole in your heart.

Fortunately, having been on this journey myself, I know there is a viable road to real financial clarity and long-term healing. Successfully managing your finances can be a great step toward self-control and autonomy, and it can all start with answering this question for yourself:

When I think about the moments when I’ve felt happiest and most fulfilled, exactly where was I and what was I doing at those times? (Be sure to go all the way back to your childhood as you reflect. You also may want to take a look at three related questions posted by George Kinder, the father of life planning.)

Answered honestly, these questions cut to the heart of what matters most to you – to your wants, needs, goals, and core values. As Kinder says, “Money is a conduit through which our souls flow into the world.”

Certainly, after losing a spouse, you must first make sure you are financially positioned to take care of your current expenses. But beyond that, the key to moving forward confidently and successfully in building your new future – albeit slowly – is making sure that your choices, financial and otherwise, are purposeful and align with who you truly are.

 A Real-Life Example

I have a widowed friend who, taking this approach, made three carefully considered decisions. Look closely; it’s not just that she made these choices consciously, but also her reasons behind the choices, which matter.

  1. I will keep my ranch because I WANT to; even though it was my husband’s dream, it’s become a part of who I am and I’m not yet ready to let it go.
  2. I will buy myself a baby grand piano because owning one was always MY dream, it is my passion and a new adventure, challenges me, and truly feeds my heart and soul.
  3. I will keep working for now because doing so empowers me to make the choices above.

The Talk

So start with the aforementioned question(s) and have the conversation with yourself. Then have it again with your financial advisor. Consider seeking out a Financial Transitionist® trained to facilitate this kind of conversation and to understand how widowhood affects not just your money, but you personally.  A collaborative relationship with your financial advisor should be the foundation of your journey to a fulfilling future where your money is aligned with all that makes you you.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

*Check back in the coming months as we delve into some of those more technical topics.

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