One moment you’re making tea and t he next moment you receive the heart-wrenching news that your spouse has been tragically killed in an accident.
Suddenly, you become a widow with children to raise and support. Many women find themselves almost sleepwalking through the stages that follow-the funeral, digging out financial forms, Social Security, etc. Life becomes a fog that you have to muddle your way through because you have people depending on you – your children!
There are important decisions that have to be made when you lose a spouse. This can be a time of extreme vulnerability so it is imperative to have access to good resources and trusted counsel. Whether it’s managing household bills and expenses or dealing with insurance and financial investments, you have to get help. Unfortunately, many people don’t know what help is available and don’t have to knowledge or wherewithal to find out.
What happens when the funeral is over and the sudden realization hits that you are a widowed single mother?
If you are in this unfortunate situation, you are certainly not alone — there are many other women who have been placed in this very same situation. It’s difficult BUT the good news is that there are some programs out there that can provide you with a helping hand.
Here are some tips to help you navigate through the maze.
Dealing with Finances as a Widow
The first thing you are going to want to deal with as a new window are your finances. Now, this might not be something you want to consider at first, but it’s certainly a pressing issue. There are three professions that you can look at to provide some solid advice on how to handle your finances: the attorney, the certified public accountant, and the financial planner.
Attorney: The attorney will help you navigate the whole probate process. You may be tempted to manage the estate yourself, being the executor after your husband’s passing, but it’s much better to delegate this task to a professional rather than deal with the stress of it yourself. This is one of the best things you can do to help move yourself forward.
The attorney will help you make any needed changes to the estate documents which include any updates to your will and modification of any powers of attorney. The attorney will help you deal with the decisions you need to make right away and the secondary decisions can be postponed (upon recommendation of the attorney) until a later date when you are better able to cope with them.
Don’t ignore just how important finding an attorney is during this process. Don’t try to deal with the estate and all legal matters on your own!
Certified Public Accountant: Taxes are another issue that will need to be handed as a widow. You’ll want to look at hiring a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to help you determine what benefits are taxable and what benefits are not. A CPA can also help you get the maximum applicable deduction for any tax you pay, which includes any estate tax and taxes to be paid for any living trust that has been set up. We recommend you do set up an appointment with a CPA within the first month after your husband’s passing — this will ensure you can manage any pressing estate and tax concerns in a timely manner. Keep in mind that the Federal tax filing deadline is April 15 — so you want to make sure everything is handled before this date.
Financial Planner: You may not think it necessary to hire a Financial planner as a widow, but in fact, the Financial Planner is just as important as the other two. A a window, you’ll want to use a Financial Planner to calculate exactly how your current and future financial will be impacted. This is especially important if you receive some sort of benefit package as the result of your husband’s passing. If not, then the Financial Planner can help you calculate what you need in terms of income to plan for your future retirement, your children’s education, and so on.
Now assuming you have an Attorney, a CPA, and a financial planner at hand, here’s the order at which you will need to handle your affairs.
The Financial Priorities You Need to Deal with (by order of importance)
- Probate the will: You’ll need to probate the will as the executor of the estate. To do so, you’ll need to file what’s called a Petition for Probate of a Will in your country. This whole process can take a couple weeks to several years, depending how complex the will and estate. This is one for the attorneys to be involved with.
- Retitle Accounts: You’ll need to get all bank accounts and investment accounts changed over into your sole name. There are various laws that govern how this is done. For example, joint accounts will be given to the surviving party (you). However, you will need to specifically contact the financial institution where your accounts are held to confirm. Each organization will likely have individual policy governing this. You may be required to field copies of your husband’s death certificate as proof.
- Review Loans, Bills and Financial Obligations:
- You’ll need to look at any bills, online banking accounts, checkbooks, expenses, and general financial obligations that have been in your husband’s name. A good idea is to make three piles of such — one pile with all financial obligations in your name, one with join names, and one pile with any such in your husbands name.
- Once you have the pile of all financial obligations in your husband’s name, you’ll need to contact each institution on the join name list and get your husband’s name removed. You may need to show documents to prove your husbands passing.
- After this, you will want to contact the institutions that hold the financial obligations solely in your husband’s name. You’ll need to let each know the account is subject the probate and will be handled by the estate. You may need to leave the attorney’s name and number. You don’t want to delay here because things like credit history could be affected if there are payment delays.
- Cancel Payments: Some payment obligations you can cancel outright without having to go through a process. Magazine subscriptions, club memberships, professional associations (golf club for example), gym memberships, etc. You may need to go in person to explain the situation or you might be able to call them directly. Keep in mind you might be asked for a death certificate to prove.
- Consider the Long Term: After you deal with the immediate finances and obligations, you’ll want to consider how things look over the long term. Things like estate planning, investments, insurance policies need to be looked at. If you have an investment portfolio, you’ll need to consult a financial adviser and see what adjustments need to be made, especially if your husband was earning the money.
Dealing with Insurance Issues as a Widow
When your spouse dies, there’s often the issue of insurance. Specifically, what any insurance you do have actually covers. This is one specific area you are going to need to seek some legal advice on and you’ll likely need to site down with a financial adviser to see where you stand, insurance wise. If your husband had a health insurance plan covered by his work, some of those benefits do extend down to you for a several years (COBRA program).
If you had a life insurance plan, then you need to look at what sort of payout / coverage is available to you.
Let’s look at some of the health insurance options you might want to look at:
Health Insurance for Widows
When a breadwinner dies, many young families experience not only a loss in earnings but the loss of a variety of fringe benefits as well. The most important of these benefits is group health insurance. The lack of health insurance coverage is particularly serious because this protection is especially needed by widows with young children. Health insurance becomes a major task when the entire family relied upon the father’s benefits.
Here are some of the major health insurance programs you absolutely should look at if you are a new widow:
- COBRA: Under federal law, if your spouse was employed at the time of death, dependents should be offered COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), which means that a widow and dependents would be eligible to continue their current coverage up to 36 months. Unfortunately, the premiums can go up 102% of the employers’ cost, which, in most cases, puts it out of consideration for most people.
- Affordable Health Care Act: Another option is the Affordable Health Care Act. The best place to start is https://www.healthcare.gov. Once you enter your state and/or zip code, it will provide you with resources.
- Medicaid: Medicaid provides some health care for the indigent. Their rules are very complex. To see if you qualify, you can call 1-800-211-3943 to get additional information. Whether your spouse was employed or self-employed, you can no longer depend on their health insurance coverage.
Health insurance may be the last thing on your mind but you need to understand your coverage. Not all plans are equal and they differ if you still have children at home, if your age is under 50, if you smoke, etc. An excellent website for additional resources is: http://sisterhoodofwidows.com/widowed-insurance-and-finance/
Financial Assistance for Widows
From the initial shock of preparing funeral arrangements to the never-ending checklist that follows, it seems there is always something for a widow to take care of. And once the whirlwind of tasks begins to calm, we find that there are many ‘normal’ things in our new lives that aren’t so normal anymore. Many surviving spouses have said during these hard months that they wish they had a guide-book, a manual of sorts that would tell then what to do, give then advice on how to do it, and tell then what to expect. You may be thinking the same thing.
We’ve given a list of links below that give specific information regarding what sort of real financial assistance programs are available to you as a widow. You should absolutely start here and look at this links to get an idea where you can go to get help.
[Disclaimer: We cannot personally endorse any of these websites, books, or organizations. Please use these sources for information only and consult professionals as necessary.]
Social Security Assistance:
- How SS can help when a family member dies: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10008.pdf
- Social Security Survivor Benefits: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan/index.htm
- How to Apply for Social Security benefits: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10084.pdf
Specific Financial Assistance Programs:
- The LizLodgelin Foundation: http://thelizlogelinfoundation.org/applicants
- Government Programs for Veterans: http://www.va.gov/survivors
- T*A*P*S (Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors)-caring for the families of our fallen heroes: http://www.taps.org/
- Surviving Spouse Support Group by State: http://survivingspousesupportgroup.org/
Community Action Agencies
These are government sponsored agencies that offer advice to people in need of financial assistance. Every major city would have a least a few CAA’s. Do some research and find your nearest one. If you are struggling financially, then checking out your local CAA is THE place to go to get relevant information about what actual financial assistance options you have, both from the government and from private organizations.
Go HERE to find out where your local CAA is.
Resources for Widow
Below we have compiled a list of websites, articles, programs, organizations, and other resources that may help you along this journey, from day one to beyond. This list is not exhaustive by any means and is continually a work in progress, so if you know of a great resource out there please share it.
Soaring Spirits International – is a non-profit organization whose leadership is dedicated to creating a national support network for people experiencing the loss of a loved one. It was originally founded by people that experienced and survived either the death of a spouse, or the death of a parent.
Soaring Spirits International is committed to providing resources that reach out to a variety of individuals across the country. Soaring Spirits International has a large database of resources designed to provide practical tools and useful information for people who have experienced any type of loss.
All of the programs offered are based on the concept of peer-based support. This organization offers no formal counseling nor do they have any therapists or counselors on staff. Their goal is to help each other to heal by sharing stories, and being available to listen when an understanding ear is needed. Please visit them at www.soaringspirits.org.
New York Life Foundation – This organization has a proud history of helping others, by providing the tools and resources necessary to cope with a loss to those who are grieving. Hundreds of organizations across the nation are dedicated to helping grieving children and their families. Here is a list of resources put together by New York Life Foundation.
A ChildInGrief.com – this is a valuable resource that will help guide you and your family through the death of a loved one.
Sesame Street – When Families Grieve – this resource provides children with personal stories about coping with the death of a parent. It also presents strategies that have helped families move forward.
National Alliance for Grieving Children – this organization promotes awareness of the needs of children and teens grieving a death. It also provides education and additional resources for anyone who wants to support them. All grieving children deserve a chance to heal. You can find resources in your neighborhood on their website.
Camp Erin – this is the largest network of free bereavement camps in the country for children and teens who are grieving the loss of a significant person in their life. The camp is run by the Moyer Foundation.
Comfort Zone Camp – this is a bereavement camp that transforms the lives of children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver. The free camps include confidence building programs and age-based support groups that addresses the emotional isolation that grief often brings. Comfort Zone Camps are offered to children 7-17, and are held year-round across the Country. You can check their website for your location.
Hello Grief – this organization provides information and resources about grief by dealing with the current culture of avoidance that surrounds death and loss. Instead, Hello Grief addresses bereavement head-on for those who are helping others cope, as well as those who need support on their own personal journey with grief. In a world that doesn’t get it, Hello Grief does!
Acts of Simple Kindness – this is a resource that provides financial grants to children, through the age of 18. The purpose of the grants are to allow these children the opportunity to continue or pursue extracurricular activities in the areas of education, sports, music and the arts following the death of a parent.
Single Fathers Due to Cancer – this is an organization that offers support, information, and resources to fathers as they adjust to being sole parents and work through their grief and that of their children.
Life Lessons Scholarship Program – this is a resource that provides college scholarships for college students and college-bound high school seniors who have experienced the death of a parent.
http://thelizlogelinfoundation.org/resources/ – this organization is dedicated to providing support to grief stricken family in their deepest time of need. The Liz Logelin Foundation has resources to assist families in meeting their emotional and financial short term needs. Below are listed some of the resources available through this organization.
Widows Hope – This organization is dedicated to Men, Women, and Children who have lost a spouse, significant other or parent. Their mission is to rebuild lives by providing resources and programs to help those grieving become sustainable. Visit their website at: http://www.widowshope.org/resources/financial-resources/
The Final Word
It’s a life changing experience to lose your spouse — both financially and emotionally. However, while you may be tempted to leave everything to sort itself while you deal with your emotions, this is exactly what you do not want to do.
It’s critical that you take a proactive approach to dealing with the finances and estate planning issues right away. This will save a lot of headache if you do it sooner than later. You also don’t want to make rash decisions that could negatively impact your future. We highly recommend that you you do consult an attorney right after your husband’s funeral. This will put you on the right track and the attorney can recommend your next steps.
We can’t stress here enough: get some professional advice from a non-bias party. You don’t want to make any rushed decisions out of grief or panic. Emotional decisions can be very costly. Find a trusted friend or family member to help you make those final decisions regarding your loved one. For example, one area that many widows make bad decisions in in regards to funeral costs — particularly, overpaying for them. Would your spouse really want you to spend $12,000 for a casket? Or would they prefer you spend that money to help support yourself and the children? You should read the life insurance policy and control that document and not allow the funeral director to make those decisions. Now is the time that you have to start taking control of your life and the lives of those your spouse’s loved ones. Remember: if you have minor children, they too, have suffered a terrible loss and you might be all they have left. They are frightened of losing you because; you are all they have left.
As the estate begins to settle and the inheritances are distributed, you may have significant amounts of money to invest. Your financial planner can help you understand your options and how they fit into your financial plan. That way, you can secure your financial future and avoid any unnecessary risks or sacrifices to your current lifestyle.
Many widows end up second-guessing themselves on every decision for a long time. Preparing a plan and taking one small step at a time will keep you from feeling overwhelmed. This will show you what you need to progress from where you are to where you want to be at your own pace.
Gaining a secure structure will enable you to have something concrete to turn to.