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Once you’ve been married to the same person for many years, the simple thought of living without them by your side can be devastating. However, most of us will need to face the loss of a spouse at some point—especially as we grow older. According to Merrill Lynch, approximately 1.4 million Americans lose their spouses each year, and about 53 percent of surviving spouses are left without a clear financial plan for the future. Since the average American becomes a widow at just 59 years of age, most surviving spouses will need to get their finances in order if they wish to live comfortably in their older years.
When the time comes that your spouse passes away, you may wonder how you’ll tackle your finances without help from your partner—especially if they managed most of the money throughout the duration of your marriage. For some simple advice that can help you to get your finances in order as you adjust to life without your partner, read on.
Ask for Help
When seniors grieve the loss of a spouse, they’re faced with many physical, mental, and emotional challenges on top of the issues they’re already experiencing as a result of growing older. However, these challenges don’t stop here. According to Merrill Lynch, most surviving spouses—especially women—face three major financial challenges after the loss of a partner. For instance, most surviving spouses must adjust to the following:
- Becoming the sole maker of financial decisions
- Getting by on a lower household income
- Navigating and completing lengthy financial paperwork
While these challenges may seem especially difficult if your late spouse handled the finances, there are several things you can do to ease your worries as you adjust to life without your partner. First, Forbes recommends giving yourself plenty of time to grieve for your loss. You’ll need a clear head when getting your finances in order, and it’s important to give yourself ample time to mourn before tackling the practicalities of daily life.
Second, Forbes says to obtain financial advice from trusted friends, relatives, and community members. By obtaining advice from those you know and trust, you’ll begin to feel more confident in your ability to make challenging financial decisions.
When you do begin to tackle finances after the passing of your spouse, start with smaller tasks like paying household bills and collecting death benefits. For instance, you may qualify for survivor benefits if your late spouse worked and paid Social Security taxes. To collect these benefits, however, you must first report the passing to the Social Security Administration (SSA). After doing so, call 800-772-1213 or visit your local Social Security office to apply for these benefits in person.
Once you’re ready to take on more responsibilities, meet with an experienced financial advisor to create a comprehensive plan for the future. Then, you can begin to complete other steps such as renaming the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and insurance policies, updating your will, and purchasing additional copies of your spouse’s death certificate.
Decide Whether to Sell Your Home
After the passing of your spouse, you may find that you’re unable to pay your bills or maintain your current home without the help of your partner. In this case, selling your home could be a good idea—especially if the thought of living there without your spouse is too much to handle, or you’re hoping to come up with extra money to cover the cost of other expenses.
To determine whether this is the right choice for you, go online and use a home sale proceeds calculator, which will estimate your earnings from the home sale based on the value of your home, the mortgage, where you’re selling, and any taxes and real estate fees. While this calculator can be a useful tool, don’t forget to consult a real estate agent for a more accurate estimate as well.
Losing the person you’ve shared your life with is incredibly difficult, and learning how to manage your finances is just one of the obstacles you’ll face as a surviving spouse. However, giving yourself time to heal is key—as this will help you to see things more clearly as you begin to create a financial plan for your future.