Pamela Yip: Don't wait to prepare for financial life without a spouse

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

November 24, 2014

Malea Anderson has been dealing with the financial fallout of her husbandís death.

"Iím a mess," said Anderson, of Dallas, whose husband died in a plane crash in September. "We were on the verge of opening a business. It was my husbandís business. Now that has to be shut down. Itís having to be sold or liquidated. I have no source of income."

She also has to sell her home, whose remodeling is near complete.

"We had a fire in our house last year, so weíre on the very tail end of remodeling it, so I canít even put it up for sale yet," Anderson said.

But the homeís sale is critical, "so I can sock away a couple yearsí worth of income and figure out what I want to do with my life," Anderson said.

Her situation is similar to what many widows and widowers go through financially, according to a study by New York Life insurance company.

Women are disproportionately affected because of their longer life expectancy.

Following the loss of their spouse, 68 percent of widows reported significant life changes, with financial concerns rising to the top of the list. The burden of these changes amounted to years of undue hardship after the loss, according to New York Life.

"The news is unsettling," said Chris Blunt, co-president of the Insurance and Agency Group, New York Life. "Women are not prepared for the loss of a spouse and the problems are financial and much more."

The survey examined the repercussions of the loss of a spouse on 897 widows and widowers who were within 10 years of their loss.

It focused on how the loss affected daily life from both a financial and emotional perspective, zeroing in on financial security after the loss and how it may have changed as a result.

"There was life insurance, but Iíve been told itís not enough," Anderson said. "The first couple of weeks, we were liquidating cars and things because I was locked out of his bank accounts because we didnít plan well. I didnít plan for him to die."

She had to sell a car to pay for her husbandís funeral.

"The main thing was immediate income, immediate funds," said Anderson, a stay-at-home mom.

Dealing with the financial impact of widowhood can be daunting, said Rick Salmeron, a Dallas certified financial planner and Andersonís financial adviser.

"Many of the decisions that were made together now rest on the widowís shoulders alone," he said. "These decisions can add to an already overwhelming state of mind. It can be worse if the surviving spouse didnít deal with the finances whatsoever."

Another common stress is locating where all things financial are.

Andersonís grief caused her to forget the password to her husbandís computer.

"Have a master list and know how to get into it," Anderson said. "I knew the code (the password) to his computer, but in my grief I couldnít remember it. Grief does funny things to you, and I didnít realize it."

The bread-and-butter questions confronting widows:

Where are the bank statements? How do I gain access to our accounts online?

Where are the life insurance policies?

What credit card balances are remaining?

"Couples need to develop in advance a central location that contains the ĎKeys To The Kingdom,í" Salmeron said.

Itís important to not store such "digital assets" in cyberspace alone.

"Have it written somewhere, not in your brain," Anderson said.

Most important, talk about all this with your spouse before one of you dies.

"Widows wished they had discussions about what would happen financially if one of the couple passed," Blunt said. "Even though it can be an uncomfortable discussion, it is one widows wished they had had."