[caption id="attachment_215445" align="alignright" width="274"] Paul Bechly, CFA, CFP First Vice President Morgan Stanley Wealth Management[/caption]
Losing a spouse may be one of the most traumatic events you ever face in your lifetime. This devastating loss drains your emotions and makes it hard to focus on simple daily tasks, let alone financial matters. But, financial obligations are a fact of life—there are bills to be paid and decisions to be made. Taking an active role in understanding the key financial issues you face can help you begin to implement a plan that will bring more confidence and clarity to your life.
Your Journey to Financial Well-Being
Your new financial reality can be intimidating, especially if your spouse was responsible for controlling your family finances. Suddenly, you are faced with an unfamiliar set of worries: Do I have enough income to maintain my lifestyle? Will I be able to stay in my house or will I need to sell it? What do I do about my spouse’s retirement account? Can I collect on my spouse’s Social Security benefits?
These questions can be overwhelming and confusing. Rather than tackling them all at once, start with these four important steps to begin your journey to financial well-being:
Gather all your financial documents
This may include bank and brokerage statements, retirement statements, credit card statements, loan information, property titles, business agreements, tax returns and life insurance policies. If you have any joint accounts, begin retitling them, but consider keeping a joint checking account open for at least one year in the event you receive checks made payable to your spouse.
Prioritize your financial obligations
Pay the most important obligations first. These typically include mortgage and car payments, taxes, utility bills and insurance premiums. If you’re not sure how much cash you have available, consider making minimum payments on credit cards until you have a budget in place.
Honor a ‘decision-free zone’
While some financial decisions require immediate attention, others can wait. Consider committing to a one-year ‘decision-free zone’ where you avoid making any major, irrevocable decisions that involve large investments, gifts to family members or charities, and your home. Instead, focus on paying the bills and running your household as you usually do. If you receive a large sum of money from an insurance policy, deposit it in the bank. This will give you the time you need to adjust to your new life and make more objective financial decisions.
Create a plan and stick to it
Determine your spending needs by tracking your household income and expenses for a few months. This will help you understand how much you will need to achieve your definition of financial security.