Knowing how to get financial help or deal with debt after a spouse’s death may be the last thing you want to think about after losing the husband you loved…but it’s necessary.
“Some women feel they’re not ‘smart enough’ to understand financial issues,” says money expert Pam Stearns. “They’ve never known a woman who handled money nor had a female mentor who was financially literate. All of their financial role models were men, and they are intimidated by that. And, some women feel it’s not sexy or feminine to be financially literate.”
Even if you’ve been in the dark financially for years — or if you’re now dealing with debt alone – you can work your way through it (and even set and achieve financial goals some day!). If you feel lost, sad, afraid, and hopeless, you might find Widow To Widow: Thoughtful, Practical Ideas For Rebuilding Your Life helpful.
And, here are Stearns’ tips for sorting out your money issues after your spouse dies…
How to Deal With Debt After Your Spouse’s Death
1. Be good to yourself — take it slow at first. You’re probably going through probably the most difficult time of your life. Coping with a spouse’s death may be the most difficult thing you’ll ever do. If you can, have a “must do” list for the priorities you need to deal with immediately and a “can wait” list for less-important matters. When you’re ready, start slowly learning about your finances, how do deal with debt, and how to get the financial help you need to deal with debt. Your financial confidence will grow, and you’ll find it easier to make decisions and look at your options. In due time, it actually becomes fun and exciting.
2. Talk to someone you trust about getting help with debt. Seek out someone with whom you feel safe, secure and comfortable to discuss your financial situation. Find someone who will listen, and who isn’t trying to tell you what to do with your money or sell you something. If you think you need to hire a financial planner, ask your friends and family for recommendations. And, don’t make any decisions about your debt or financial situation until you’ve had time to think.
3. Get support as you mourn your spouse’s death. Stearns recommends Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges and Money Scripts by Rick Kahler. If you feel lonely and alone, find an in-person or online group for grief survivors or a widows’ support group. Don’t isolate yourself. Try to reach out and spend time with people. It will make mourning your loss a little easier — and you may find help with your financial debt as well.
A “Financial Feelings” Survey
This survey and questionnaire will help you figure out your money beliefs, relationship with money, and plans for the future — which will help you figure out your finances.
How do you feel about your:
- Ability to meet your financial needs
- Income from job and/or retirement sources
- Spending habits
- Level of debt currently carried
- Level and quality of insurance protection
- Current investment choices and understanding of them
- Estate plan
- Charitable giving
- Current level of financial literacy
- Professional relationships with advisors
A “Money Autobiography” Questionnaire
- What is your happiest time with money? Your unhappiest?
- How did your family communicate (or not) about money?
- How did you relate to money as a child? As a teenager? As an adult?
- Will you inherit money? How will this make you feel?
- Do you worry about your future?
- Do you feel guilty about prosperity?
- What has changed since your husband’s death?
Taking the time to learn about your money beliefs, spending and saving habits, and even the reasons for your debt can help you gain control of your finances.
5 Common “Money Personalities” After a Spouse’s Death
Knowing what you think about money will help you figure out your finances and get help your debt. Widows often fall into one of these “widow personalities” when it comes to figuring out your finances after your spouse dies:
Sleeping Beauty - “My prince charming will come and will take care of everything for me. I don’t need to worry about anything.”
Alice in Wonderland - “I am so confused and nothing makes sense to me. I am living in a fantasy land. I want to help and rescue people. Let me give them all my money.”
Goldilocks and the Three Bears – “I just can’t make up my mind. This bed is too soft yet this one is too hard. I need to research everything yet can never decide on anything.”
Wonder Woman - “Everything is going to be just fine. I can handle it all. I don’t feel any pain or confusion. I’ll get through this.”
Bag Lady – “I just know I’m going to end up on the streets with no money, no friends and no family. I will be all alone one day.” (Actually, most widows at some point or another have this fear – hopefully this fear is just for a short period of time.
Figuring out your money personality can give you the strength and motivation you need to get financial help with debt.
For help coping with your spouse’s death, read Starting Over in Your 60s – After Your Husband Dies.
If you have any thoughts dealing with debt after your spouse’s death, please comment below…
Stearns founded Navigating Wealth specially to help women through major life transitions (loss of spouse, divorce, job changes, etc.).