2. Check your benefits. Widows and widowers are entitled to a Social Security survivor benefit. Your Financial Advisor can help you determine the best options for claiming any Social Security benefit, since timing could affect the amount you receive.
Also, be sure to check with your spouse’s employer or pension plan about whether you’re entitled to any spousal benefits or other funds, including any life insurance payout, unpaid salary or bonuses, stock options, funds left in a flexible spending account or accrued vacation or sick leave.
3. Consider distribution options. Your Financial Advisor can also help you understand your options as beneficiary on any insurance policies, retirement accounts or other savings vehicles that your spouse may have had. These decisions can have a long-reaching impact on your overall benefit, your ability to access funds and the amount of taxes you’ll pay when you do.
4. Review your documents. If you’re like most couples, you and your spouse probably named one another on documents like advanced healthcare directives and durable powers of attorney. If the named beneficiary dies, the next person in line will automatically move up.
However, you may find that you’re not comfortable with all of your backup appointments simply moving forward. “For example, you might have listed children who’ve dispersed around the country as your secondary healthcare proxies,” explains Brunner. She suggests revisiting each document to ensure that the primary agent is someone who understands your wishes and will be able to serve as your proxy.
5. Revisit your allocation. Meet with your Financial Advisor to make sure your investments still meet your needs. “You have to think about your investments in the context of your own financial planning,” Brunner explains. “Everything from your income and your expenses to your risk tolerance may be different, so your plan may need to be adjusted to your new circumstances.”
6. Practice saying “no”—or “not now.” The recently widowed are often besieged with requests for money, including pleas from legitimate charities and advice from well-meaning family members as well as sales pitches for investment opportunities. Rehl notes that surviving spouses should take care not to be pressured into financial decisions during this vulnerable time. “Stand in front of a mirror and practice saying, ‘That sounds like a good idea but it’s too early to think about it. I will talk to my financial planner about it when I’m ready,’” she suggests.
Losing a spouse can be devastating. Having a way forward can help you address immediate needs, and put off what you don’t need to deal with right away. Contact your Financial Advisor, who will help you with these challenges in whatever way possible.