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Advice for the Suddenly Single

Good morning!
A couple of weeks ago on a Friday, I got an email from a fellow named George.
He’s a 3rd year journalism student at Leeds Becket University in England.
As part of his degree, George shared, he was required to create a magazine and his was going to be focused on people who’ve become single later in life due to loss of a spouse, divorce or even loss of a friendship.
He reached out me specifically around financial advice for widows. I suspect he found me because of this lengthy article I wrote which is pretty popular on Google for searches about widows and finances.
So after some back and forth with George via email, we agreed that it might be easiest if he sent me some questions to answer via email in the hope they would be suitable for publication in his magazine project.
And while I’ve answered these primarily in the context of a widow, I hope you’ll find some takeaways regardless of your situation.
So here we go:
Losing a loved one can be one of the hardest things that someone will experience in their life. What advice do you offer first in regards to helping widows deal with a loss emotionally?
The first thing I encourage a widow to do is breathe.
And just keep breathing.
They have a lot to deal with… adjusting to life on their own, perhaps after decades of living with their spouse. They need to properly go through the grieving process. Yet many widows feel the best way to handle things is to just “get on with life.” And while this needs to happen eventually, there’s very little that can’t wait. So the best thing I can recommend is to just relax, embrace your emotions (as difficult as that may be), and know that it’s OK to be sad, grief-stricken, etc.
How important do you think it is for newly widowed women to use the support that is available?
I think it depends a lot on the woman… some will absolutely need to rely on available support, whether from friends, family, church groups, or other community resources.
Other women will likely deal with the grief and transition better on their own. It’s important to recognize that there’s no formula or approach that’s right for every woman dealing with the loss of her spouse.
What are some of the most common concerns/questions you get from newly single women about dealing with their finances?
The biggest is “he always took care of the money matters” and they often feel confused and overwhelmed.
And these are bright, educated women… I tell them they can absolutely take care of this. They just need to get familiar with their finances and understand how to manage it simply daily, weekly, monthly, etc.
Another common concern is “what do I do about X?”
Where “X” could be a pension, Social Security, life insurance, investments, mortgage, or a variety of other things.
When this comes up, I remind them that while many well-meaning friends, family and even financial professionals will offer opinions and advice, it’s important for her to think about and make decisions based on what’s important to her. Not necessarily what’s worked for her sister or her son-in-law.
Some newly single women after losing their partner may never have had to deal with finances before which could be a massive weight on their shoulders. What is the very first bit of advice you would give to help relieve the stress of such financial concerns?
The first, best thing they can do is to inventory their current situation.
What do they owe? What do they own? What expenses do they have on a weekly or monthly basis? What are her concerns? What (and who) is important to her?
Going through this process doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming. In fact, I think as a newly single woman begins to get a feel for where she is financially today, this will help her more comfortably figure out how to manage things in a way that works for her going forward. And hopefully it will give her some peace of mind to know how to move forward, once she knows where she’s starting from.
Finally, what would be your top five tips/pieces of advice for new widows and dealing with their finances?
1. Breathe. Take your time. Deal with your emotions. There’s likely nothing you have to deal with this very moment. Instead, you should embrace your emotions, learn to cope with your loss (and know it will take time), and deal with your life (including your finances) once you’re in a better place mentally and emotionally.
2. Figure out where you are right now… what do you own? What do you owe? Do you have current income from work? Begin to consider how you want to live your life going forward? Think about how you may be able to simplify your finances and make things easier on yourself in the future. It’s difficult – if not impossible – to plan the direction of your life if you don’t have a clear picture of where you’re starting from. This is true financially and in general.
3. Be wary and cautious of advice from others. Even well-meaning friends and family can only share their experience and decisions that might have worked for them. But they’re not you and the right decision(s) for you might be very different than what they’re encouraging you to do. Take your time with your financial decisions. Getting them right (or wrong) could have a lasting impact on the rest of your life. Just because they want to help doesn’t mean they necessarily know how to help.
4. And while it’s good to be wary of input and advice from others, it’s often good to identify and have a trusted person to help you evaluate and think through some of the financial decisions you’ll be facing. This could be a friend or family member. It could be someone on your church staff. It could be a trusted professional. If you’ve lost your spouse with whom you’ve been discussing and making decisions for years or decades, you’ll likely find it comforting to have someone to bounce ideas off of and to help you check your decisions before making them.
5. Don’t make a decision until you’re comfortable with it and have a good understanding of what’s involved. If you’re not clear on something, ask questions. And then ask more questions.
This is especially true if talking with a financial advisor, but it also applies if you’re talking with your CPA, your family, your realtor, your insurance agent, the person that cleans your home, etc.
Sadly, many people will take advantage of others, especially those who are dealing with the loss of a spouse.
Don’t be a victim. Don’t be pressured into making a decision you don’t understand or aren’t comfortable with.
Ask questions. Get help from someone you know and trust. And take your time…
I think the line immediately above applies to everyone, regardless of your situation.
Always ask questions and make sure you’re comfortable with and understand something before making a decision. If the person (whether family, friend, or professional) isn’t comfortable answering your questions, that should make you more wary of anything they’re advising you on.
Speaking of which…
Please reply to this email and let me know what you think.
Any questions?
Any topic(s) you’d like me to address in future emails?
Let me know how I can help.
Until next Wednesday,

P.S. - After a few months of trying something different with my email communications, I’ve felt a pull to return to a more personal email approach. Going forward, my plan is to write an email to you every Wednesday. I invite you stick around and participate in the email conversation. I’ll cover retirement and all things related including some occasional PDF guides, checklists, & more.
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Russ Thornton

I'm Russ, a financial advisor based in Atlanta, GA. My focus is retirement planning for women (and their families) who are 55+. Every Wednesday, I write an email letter with my thoughts and perspectives on retirement and its many related topics. And I might include some other ideas or interesting topics as well 😉

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Russ Thornton | Atlanta, GA | Disclosures: