When you’ve just lost your spouse, you may be dealing with the loss of your life companion, your partner and best friend. It can be an overwhelming time, and it may be difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel, to a day when you might feel better and brighter about your emotional and financial future.
In times like these, it can be comforting to hear from women who have been there and made it to the other side.
Every year, women who lose their spouse are able to start fresh, move beyond the immediate and uncertain aftermath of this time, and begin living new lives. Here’s a look at how five of Francis Financial’s clients were able to get back on track after losing their partners.
Sandy’s Story: Making Memories in a New Home
Sandy reached out to us when her husband of 42 years, Mike, passed away. During her marriage, Sandy did not worry about her finances. Mike was a successful real estate investor in New York City, and the couple enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. They lived in a townhouse on the Upper East Side, where they raised their three now-adult children.
When we met with Sandy, she had decided to sell her townhouse, as she did not want to have to manage the maintenance that it required or be made to think of the painful memories of Mike’s sickness. She wanted to stay in her neighborhood so that she could continue daily walks in Central Park with friends and enjoy her familiar surroundings.
Francis Financial built a comprehensive financial plan detailing how Sandy could move to a high-end rental apartment on her same block, with all the amenities she will need as she grows older. We also constructed a custom portfolio that generates so much income and growth that Sandy does not have to dip into the principal. She is also happy that she will be able to leave money to her children and grandchildren, which is something that Mike wanted, too. Sandy has a better understanding of her money and feels more financially secure than ever before.
Madeline’s Story: Feeling Reassured That She’ll Be OK
Madeline reached out to us after her husband, Tim, passed away. Madeline was a nurse, and Tim was a chief financial officer at an insurance company. They were able to build a good deal of savings because they were always very careful with money. Madeline grew up very poor and was haunted by the memories of having their utilities shut off, and the uncertainty of where they would live next. Understandably, money is extremely important to Madeline because it gives her a sense of security.
Madeline enjoyed managing the household budget during her marriage and it gave her significant peace of mind to know the balance of the dollars coming in and dollars going out. However, Madeline left the investing part of their finances to Tim. Tim worked in the financial field and really enjoyed researching stocks and bonds. He would sit down with Madeline a few times a year to go over all the details, but in truth, investing was not something that really excited Madeline. Investing felt risky, and in the back of her mind Madeline always worried that they could lose it all in the market, and she would find herself in the same place as she did when she was a kid. She felt it was better not to think about it, and to leave it in Tim’s capable hands.
Madeline was referred to us by her son because he could tell that Madeline was extremely worried about money, and this, on top of losing Tim, was starting to impact her health. We met with Madeline and her son and listened to Madeline talk about her fears of losing her money in the market. Francis Financial wrote a comprehensive written analysis of her financial situation that detailed her expenses, income and assets until she was age 100. We were able to work backward to understand how much money she needed to live out the rest of her life and how much her money would need to earn in the stock market.
Madeline was extremely relieved to know that she did not need to take on a lot of risk in her investment portfolio. Because her lifestyle was so frugal, she could live confidently on her Social Security and her pension from nursing, alone. She could tap into her portfolio for special expenses like taking her grandchildren on a trip to the Grand Canyon, which she had planned to do the following year. It was comforting to Madeline to know that, no matter what, she would be financially secure and she had a team to ensure her financial health for the rest of her life.
Beth’s Story: Finding Out She Won’t Have to Work Forever
Beth’s plan was to retire early from a job that she no longer enjoyed, but that dream was shattered when Keith suddenly passed away. What was even more heartbreaking was that Keith was in the middle of the underwriting process to purchase a large life insurance policy that would have secured Beth’s financial future if he died. Despite many reminders from Beth and the life insurance agent, Keith never managed to finish the process, and the new life insurance policy was not issued. Although Beth received life insurance proceeds from a small policy at Keith’s workplace, the money was not enough to make up for Keith’s income, and now Beth is not only grieving the loss of her husband but also dealing with the disappointment over having to continue working in a career that she does not enjoy.
Understandably, Beth was distraught when she came to Francis Financial. We immediately made several savvy tax moves with the retirement accounts she received from Keith and built a portfolio to deliver maximum returns to shave off the number of years that Beth must continue working. We also advised her to sell an unprofitable rental property, bringing Beth only two years away from being able to leave her job and start the retirement she was looking forward to.
Beth’s story is painful in many ways, but she is moving forward and starting to build her new life. She is looking into moving somewhere warm after she retires, to escape the snow, and using her vacation time to investigate the perfect tropical home for herself.
Lily’s Story: Keeping Her Family’s Dream Home
Lily never expected to be a widow so young. Her husband, Mike, was only 43 when he passed away from a car accident, leaving her on her own with their twin 3-year-old girls. Mike’s death was the worst timing that she could think of. They had just purchased their dream farmhouse, built in the 1800s, which required a significant amount of repair and upkeep. Mike loved taking on these DIY projects. Despite the house needing so much work, Lily was loath to sell it. Mike and Lily looked for years and felt that this was the perfect home to raise the girls in, as it had a huge backyard next to a nature preserve, was in a great school district, and only 4 miles from her parents.
Understandably, Lily had many questions when she came to speak to us. Would she need to return to work, and if so, when? Could she afford to cover the house maintenance on her own? And most importantly, what type of life could she provide for the girls? Could Lily still afford to save into the kids’ college funds? Could she send them to summer camp when they were a little older?
Lily’s highest priority was making sure that the girls would not have to sacrifice because of their dad’s death, as it was already going to be hard enough growing up without a father. Lily wanted to work with a financial adviser who could show her all of the different scenarios that she was thinking about and guide her toward those that would make her and the girls the most financially secure. Lily also knew that her life was going to change and wanted to make sure that she had a team that could be with her every step of the way and make adjustments to her financial plan and investment portfolio to support her.
We have been working with Lily for the last six years since Mike’s death, and she is extremely confident about her financial future. She and the girls still live in that beautiful farmhouse, and we designated some of the life insurance proceeds to finish the projects and bring it to a place of easy maintenance. Lily did go back to work, but not before spending another year at home with the girls after Mike died. Relaunching her career was timed nicely with when the girls started school full-time.
Lily is also saving money into the kids’ 529 college savings plan and we have invested this for large returns, to maximize these dollars. Lily is adding money to her employer’s retirement 401(k) plan and receives a generous match each year on her contributions. Finally, we moved a portion of the life insurance money into an account that will be used for special expenses for the girls, like summer camp. Lily knows that Mike would want the girls to be taken care of in this way.
The Bottom Line for Those Who Need Help
For many widows, the loss of a spouse means starting at “ground zero” when it comes to understanding household finances. If you weren’t a part of financial conversations and decisions before, diving in now can be tough. There are many moving parts in your life right now, but it’s important to make time to get to a better, more empowered place with your money.
To start, rally your team of trusted professionals who can help you get to a better, more confident place, emotionally and financially. Yes, hiring a certified financial planner is a great first step.
“Friends and family members may offer advice based upon their own experiences or what they have heard from others,” according to trust and estates attorney Britt Burner, Esq., of Burner Law. “Unsolicited advice, even if well intentioned, may actually add to your stress and confusion.
“Now is the time to surround yourself with a team that you trust to understand your legal and financial positions and educate you on your options as you are embarking on this new phase of life.”
President & CEO, Francis Financial Inc.
Stacy is a nationally recognized financial expert and the President and CEO of Francis Financial Inc., which she founded 15 years ago. She is a Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) who provides advice to women going through transitions, such as divorce, widowhood and sudden wealth. She is also the founder of Savvy Ladies™, a nonprofit that has provided free personal finance education and resources to over 15,000 women.