Four Financial Tips for Widows

While you may feel panicked and overwhelmed, don't rush to make key decisions about money and finances.


The Boomerater™ Report, our weekly collaboration with online baby boomer resource Boomerater, this week helps widows plan for their financial future while avoiding mistakes others have made. “My dear husband recently passed away," a Boomerater member writes. "For 40 years he handled our finances and I’m lost without him. I want to make sure our savings last so that I have financial security. My husband was a wonderful handyman who could fix anything and he did most of the yard work. I am considering selling the house and moving to a retirement community. Also, I work full time, but am thinking of retiring or changing to a less demanding job. There are so many decisions to make, where do I start?” Here is what other members said:

[See Why Retirement Spending Is More Art Than Science.]

Take your time—don’t make rash decisions. It may seem impossible to consider a normal future right now, but you will be amazed at how much strength you have. Please do not make any changes right away. Learn what you can about your finances and keep the bills up to date. But don’t make major life changes like retiring or moving in a rush. A great place to start to put things in perspective is a Web site run by the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement. They have a retirement calculator to help you know how much you will need to live, resources for estate and retirement planning, details about types of survivor benefits and Social Security, pensions, etc. Another good site is operated by the Women's Institute for Financial Education, and focuses on women’s financial independence. Just having a place to start was a big help for me when my husband died.

Get help to develop a realistic plan. Take some time off from work if you can but I wouldn't recommend changing jobs or moving right now. Don't worry about fixing things around the house most of that can wait. When the time is right, you'll want to create a plan for your finances that suits you. It may mean you change jobs or move to a new home. To create a plan, you take stock of where you are now and look at your income and your living expenses. If you're living on less than what you're making great! Otherwise you'll need to scale back. Then, look at what sources of income you'll have when you retire. This may include Social Security, pensions and other retirement accounts, as well as savings. A financial planner can help you estimate future medical expenses, determine when to start collecting Social Security, and when to withdraw from various retirement accounts. The National Association for Personal Financial Planners and the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors are two organizations whose members offer fee-only planning. It might make sense to contact a member near you to set up a financial review that could give you peace of mind now and a guide to help for full planning later when you're ready to take that step. [See Seniors' Home Repair Help From Angie's List.]

Beware of Scams! Shortly after my dad died my mother was the target of a terrible scam by a con artist who preyed on widows. He called her, identifying himself as on officer of the court, and told her she had missed her assigned jury duty. When she said she didn’t know anything about it he treated her horribly, saying she was obviously trying to get out of her civic duty. When she became upset, he told her he would try to have the warrant for her arrest cancelled but would need her full legal name, date of birth and Social Security number. She gave it to him and now is a victim of identity theft. What a mess! Don’t give money or personal information to ANYONE.

Don’t turn your financial future over to your children. It is a big mistake to let your kids take over your finances. Count on them for emotional support, but not financial advice. My sister turned all financial decisions over to her son, who had no expertise. He made unwise investments and she also ended up paying more in taxes than she would have with a qualified financial adviser.

Read other member suggestions or add your own comment about financial planning for widows. Boomerater is an online resource for baby boomers, with local directories to help you find everything from an Atlanta financial advisor to Texas assisted living. The site also contains forums where boomers can post questions and swap first-hand experiences. If there are questions on your mind that you would like answered by other people who have faced similar situations, or you have advice of your own to share, go to and participate in the forums. Say that The Best Life sent you. [See Make a Housing Plan for Your Later Years.]