Click below to listen to Episode 56 – Loss Of A Spouse
Loss Of A Spouse
Learn how to handle the loss of a spouse, including all financial aspects to get in order.
In this episode, Bob and Mary Jo discuss the loss of a spouse. Having been financial advisors for many years, they both have dealt with clients who have experienced the life changing event of losing a spouse through death or divorce. They have walked beside clients and family through this difficult process many times.
Most of us are not at all prepared for how this changes everything. You may feel numb, shocked, fearful, or wondering how life goes on. You might ask yourself, “How? How does life go on from here?” Whether you fit in this category or not, you may know someone who does so we invite you to listen and share with anyone you may know dealing with a loss or about to.
HOSTED BY: Bob Barber, CWS®, CKA® and Mary Jo Lyons, CFP®, CKA®
Mentioned In This Episode
Christian Financial Advisors
Bob Barber, CWS®, CKA®
Mary Jo Lyons, CFP®, CKA®
40 Estate Administration Tasks
National Institute On Aging
Moving Forward On Your Own: A Financial Guidebook For Widows
Crown Ministries Budget Worksheet
Want to ask a question about your specific situation? Schedule a complimentary 15 minute phone call.
Bob: Welcome to Christian Financial Perspectives, a weekly podcast where we talk about ways to integrate your faith with your finances. This is Bob Barber.
Mary Jo: And I’m Mary Jo Lyons.
Bob: Are you ready to learn how to apply biblical wisdom to everyday financial decisions?
Mary Jo: Join us as we look at integrating your faith with your finances. If it’s your first time listening, welcome to our podcast, and if you’re a returning listener, welcome back.
Bob: 1 Timothy 5:3-5, “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family And so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone, puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.” So on today’s podcast, we’re going to discuss the loss of a spouse. Having been financial advisor for many years, Mary Jo and I, we’ve dealt with many clients who unfortunately have lost a spouse through death or even divorce. We’ve walked beside our clients and family through this difficult process many times. Whether you fit in this category or not today, you may know somebody who does. So we invite you to listen to the podcast and share it with anyone you may know dealing with the loss or are about to.
Mary Jo: Losing a spouse through death or divorce, it’s a life changing event. I just recently lost my younger brother to cancer very suddenly, and I know how devastating this has been to his wife, my sister in law. Like many widows, she was not prepared to experience this so young. I’ve been married for 37 years, and I can’t imagine how hard it would be to lose the love of my life.
Bob: Mary Jo, I’ve been married for 35 and I’m the same way. We do everything together.
Mary Jo: Exactly. We’ve helped a lot of people through this, both family and clients, as you said, Bob, but we haven’t been through it ourselves, but I think that we have enough experience where we can relate and we can shed our insights and hopefully shelter some of those who may be facing this in the future. So most of us, we’re not at all prepared for how this changes everything. You may feel numb, shocked, even fearful. The emotions, the fears, the tasks, the overwhelming grief, the fact that life goes on. Yes, life does begin to go on. You might ask yourself how? How does life go on from here? The answer, it’s one day at a time, one step at a time. In today’s episode on Christian Financial Perspectives, we’re going to share some insights, some how to’s, some best practices, and some step-by-step guidelines on how to begin reshaping your financial lives after the loss of a spouse.
Bob: There’s no rules about how you should feel. There’s no right or wrong way to mourn the loss of a spouse or the loss of a marriage. In the case of divorce, there’s still often a lot of grief, grief for the loss of what might’ve been your dreams, your hopes for the future. If you’ve experienced the loss of a spouse, the first thing we’d like to say how sorry we are for your loss. We understand this can be very devastating and may require quite an adjustment that can take several years or even longer to get used to. So if you’re like me, your life revolved around your spouse and now they’re no longer around. You may be out and about and even look for him or her in a crowd or be sure that you just saw them out of the corner of your eye. Some people, they keep re-experiencing circumstances or events around their partner’s death. Others find themselves sticking to old routines like setting the table for two or reading something and turning to tell their spouse about it, picking up the phone to call him or her. All of this is natural and expected, so know that it’s also natural in the beginning to have trouble sleeping, little interest in food, problems with concentration, and a hard time making decisions.
Mary Jo: You may also be dealing with anger. This is especially true in cases of divorce, especially if it was sudden and not expected. It’s also true in dealing with the death of a spouse. It’s normal to feel anger. Why did you leave me? Why did you do this to me? How am I ever going to figure this out on my own? It doesn’t matter whether you’re a widow or a widower. You can both still have those feelings. Grief can take many different forms. In addition to dealing with all these feelings of loss and anger, you may also need to put your life back together. This can be hard work. Some people feel better sooner than they expect. Others, it may take much longer. The National Institute on Aging has lots of articles and resources available at their website, so I’d encourage you to check these out, and that’s at nia.nih.gov
Bob: Consider joining a support group at your church, in this case, or in your community. Sometimes, it just helps to know you’re not alone. Remember, there are other people dealing with these same issues. These groups, they can be specialized. I know we have a lot of these in our own church – parents who have lost children or people who have lost spouses, grieving the loss of a parent or a sibling, the newly divorced, etc. They can be for anyone learning to manage grief, so check with your church and religious groups, local hospitals, nursing homes, funeral homes, or even your doctor to find support groups in your area. If your loved one passed after dealing with cancer or another terminal illness, hospice can also be a great resource. I know, Mary Jo, even our own church, we have a cancer support group, and they often have groups available in many other places as well.
Mary Jo: Yeah, I do a lot of volunteer work for the nonprofit hospice here in Rockport, and they have a grief support group and it’s very well attended and people continue to come for years. They get a lot of comfort from it. As time passes, you’re certainly going to still miss your spouse and is true in cases of death and even divorce. You still lost a spouse that you spent much time with, so it’s not unusual for there to still be this same level of grief. For most people, the intense pain will lessen in time. There will be good and bad days. You will know you’re feeling better when there are more good days than bad. Don’t feel guilty if you laugh at a joke or enjoy a visit with a friend. If you’re the one who experienced the loss, friends and family may be waiting to take a cue from you. They don’t want to make you uncomfortable so they avoid talking about the elephant in the room. Be the one to bring it up, and let them off the hook. Give them the green light to talk about your loved one. If you are a friend or caregiver for someone who just lost a spouse, then you be the one to bring it up. It’s okay and even encourage them to talk about it and remember them. Your friend will want to know their loved one is missed but not forgotten.
Bob: Oh yeah. Family and compassionate friends, that can be some of the greatest support and remember, they’re grieving too and some people find that sharing memories is a great way to help each other. Feel free to share those stories about the one who is gone. People may find it helpful to talk directly about their loss. After all, you are all coping with the loss of someone you cared for. So you’ve lost a spouse, what should you now do in regards to your finances? The first step, and most important one, is to ensure that you have cash on hand for those short term needs. We often advise our clients to maintain an emergency fund of at least six months of living expenses. If you have a spouse who is sick and not expected to enjoy a long life ahead, you may want to increase this even up to a year just to provide that peace of mind.
Mary Jo: Bob, an important thing to know is that many times in case of the death of a spouse, things like social security payments, pension payments, and other income sources, they’re going to stop once a death notice has been received. But they have also been known to claw back some of those funds that were paid in advance and that maybe weren’t yet due to the recipient. And I’ve seen this happen personally with social security. For example, after my father died, we came in and trying to pick up the pieces and we had no idea how much cash he may or may not have had in the bank. But all of a sudden his social security payment wasn’t there anymore.
Bob: Wow. At a tough, tough time.
Mary Jo: It’s very tough time. We were fortunate it worked out great because he had a lot of cash on hand, but what if he hadn’t? We’d written a check to the funeral home. So I just remember the stress that created and you want to give yourself time to get your feet on the ground, so this is one thing you can do to make the next steps easier and give you that gift of time. Second, and equally as important because this is such an emotional and stressful time, you want to take time to just breathe. Do not make any sudden financial decisions about moving or selling anything, except for maybe getting the estate settled and some accounts switched to your name. This is not the time to make any permanent longterm financial decisions, maybe not even up for a year unless it’s absolutely necessary to do so.
Bob: Next, just try and gather as much financial information as you physically and mentally can handle during this time, but don’t overwhelm yourself. A good list to work on one at a time is finding if it was a death that caused the loss of a spouse, that Last Will and Testament, maybe those trust documents. If there was a limited partnership, try to find that of the lost spouse. This goes the same with a divorcee, as these documents will need to be changed,
Mary Jo: You’ll want to gather death certificates if the loss was a death. You may need these in order to get access to some of the following items on our list and you will need multiple copies. I’d request at least 10, if not 20, because many of the financial firms, they’re going to require an original death certificate.
Bob: The next thing you’re gonna want to do is look for all your recent bank account statements and some of you may just have one or two bank accounts, but if you’re like me and I’m a business owner and different properties we have different bank accounts for, so reach out and try to find all those. You know, Mary Jo, I was just talking about this list to Rachael and I was saying, “Rachael, do you know where all this is?” as we were coming up with this list and thank goodness most of them she did, but there were a few she didn’t.
Mary Jo: That’s a great reminder.
Bob: Next, look for statements for any debts that you owe, like consumer credit card debt, mortgage, auto debt. And by the way, we’re going through this list and we’re mentioned these. We are going to put this list on our podcast website so you can go look at that. Next, look for your retirement account statements like your IRAs, 401k’s, Thrift Savings Plans, Annuities. Of course, this next one is a really important one, especially if there’s a life insurance policy, but look for all of your insurance policies, your auto, your home, your health insurance, your brokerage account statements is something else that you’ll want to look for that are not retirement accounts. But just regular brokerage statements that you may have with a broker dealer.
Mary Jo: You’re also going to need your last two years tax returns. I would also recommend that you create a calendar of important due dates as you find these things and you look through them. Any payments that you have, begin to record that.
Bob: That’s such a great idea.
Mary Jo: Yes. And you also want a list of all your real estate that’s owned – your home, any farm and ranches, investment property, vacation homes. Some people have two and three rental properties, etc. So, you want to make a list of all that and you know, Bob, as we’re going through this, one of the things that kind of just keeps coming to top of my mind is this is a great list for those coming behind. But this is also a great reminder for any couples that you probably want to go through this and talk about this while you still can together, so that you don’t find yourself in a crisis mode after the fact.
Bob: Yeah. It’s like I was saying it’s kind of a to do list. I went through this list and she knew where most of this stuff was, but there were two or three items on here she didn’t, and I realized we need to make sure that both of us know where this stuff is. Another thing that you want to list as any businesses owned individually or jointly and the names of any outside partners, if there were any. Oil and gas interest, royalties from anything, copies of all your real estate deeds, and titles to your cars, your boats – thinking about Mike there, etc.
Mary Jo: All your toys.
Bob: By the way, everyone, I got to go out on Mike’s boat the other day. That’s a nice boat, I’ll tell ya, I sure did enjoy that boat ride, Mary Jo. Thank y’all.
Mary Jo: Well, he cleans the boat like he does his cars. It was a fun day. Try and form a complete financial statement of all your assets and liabilities and you know the things that we’re going through that we’re itemizing, this can be a daunting task. This is a lot of things to gather, and you don’t have to do it all at once. Just every day, tackle one thing on the list. You also want to try and form a monthly budget of what that will look like and what you’ll need to live on. The best worksheets we found over the years for putting together a budget can be found at crown.org. That’s a great website with tremendous resources. And you also want to find your social security statements since spousal benefits are available to a widow or widower and even there’s some divorce benefits that you want to check into.
Bob: So this list that we’re looking at, it has 17 items on it and again we don’t expect you to remember all those. You can go to Christianfinancialpodcast.com and look up this podcast called “Loss Of A Spouse” and it will have a listing of that. But also just feel free to give us a call because this is a lot of items. If you’re unable to manage all this, you might want to try to find a trusted friend or family member to help you with it. Take great notes along the way of these actions taken and who you spoke with and the names and contact information of every one. So you want to probably get you a good workbook to put all this in. We also have a great resource available that provides a list of steps when acting as an executor of an estate. This serves as a resource we use around here and it’s called the “40 Estate Administration Tasks”. It’s a great resource. Again, we’ll put that as a link through our website. We’ll make that available. If you want to give us a call, you can always call us too and we’ll send that to you. By the way, that number is (830) 609-6986. Again, (830) 609-6986, and you can call during business hours. Just ask about some of these things if you don’t want to go to the website, and we’ll get them out to you.
Mary Jo: The next step is you want to contact your financial advisor. If you don’t have one, this may be a great time to find one. You’ll be best served by an advisor who’s looking at your entire financial picture, one who does comprehensive wealth management and don’t let that term wealth put you off. I know that happens to a lot of people. They don’t think of themselves as wealthy but we all have wealth. Some of us just have more than others and you don’t have to have extensive wealth to work with a wealth management advisor. A great advisor will serve as your trusted financial advocate, and that’s the thing that’s the most important. They will look at your entire financial picture and not just your investment portfolio. You will want to look for an experienced, fee based advisor that serves in a fiduciary capacity and does not sell any commission-based financial products. They will help you put your financial life in order. So you only deal with a fiduciary based financial advisor and ask them exactly how they are paid, which should either be by the hour, a flat fee, a fee based on a percentage of assets under their management, or a combination of these.
Bob: As in every profession, there are few bad apples that pry on unsuspecting divorcees, widows, and widowers at a time when they’re most vulnerable. So steer clear of any advisors or so-called financial planners that may try to sell you investment products like an annuity without looking at your entire financial picture. Because advisors, they make huge commissions on these products. They’re very complicated and they come with lots of strings attached. If you or your spouse had not done any prior longterm financial planning, you may want to find a wealth management advisor who is also called a Certified Financial Planner, and if you’re looking to work with a Christian advisor, you may also want to look for an advisor that is a Certified Kingdom Advisor as both Mary Jo and I are.
Mary Jo: Your financial advisor should have the patience to answer any and all of your questions in a kind and compassionate manner. If your spouse had the relationship with your advisor and you did not feel that they tried very hard to connect with you, then maybe it’s no longer a good fit. It may be a time to find a new advisor that will serve as your financial advocate. If they are condescending or don’t take your questions seriously, it’s time to move on. Now that you have all the documents gathered, it’s time to transition your financial affairs to your new life as a single person.
Bob: If you’re not already working with an estate planning attorney and a tax preparer, you’ll need to find one of those as well. Your advisor should be able to help you with a referral to the proper attorney that fits your needs and your budget. Now that you’re single, you’ll need to update those estate planning documents. If your spouse was the power of attorney and held your medical directive, you will want to find another friend or family member to serve in this capacity as well. When meeting with your tax preparer or CPA, you’ll want to inquire about what documents you should gather and any tax sensitive issues that need to be addressed, and review those tax issues for the current year.
Mary Jo: Some to do items include write a new will and advanced directive. Look into a durable power of attorney for legal matters and health care in case you’re unable to make your own medical decisions in the future. Put joint property such as a house or a car in your own name as an individual. Check on changes you might need to make on your health insurance, as well as your life insurance, your car insurance, and your homeowners insurance. All those policies.
Bob: Sign up for Medicare by your 65th birthday. Make a list of bills you’ll need to pay in the next few months. For instance, state and federal taxes and your rent or mortgage. And if your spouse handled the finances and kept all those records, then start your own filing system, one that works for you and the way that you think. Declutter your life. Consider what to pitch, what to keep, what to update, and make sure and shred any documents that have information on them like account numbers or social security numbers, etc.
Mary Jo: That’s right. Don’t just throw that stuff in the trash. You want to get a shredder if you’re not already using one. I did have to laugh a little bit about the one that works well for the way you think.
Bob: Now everybody’s going to know the way I think. Go ahead and tell them, Mary Jo.
Mary Jo: You know, men are from Mars, women are from Venus or if it’s the other way around, but my husband and I, we approach things so differently. I have one filing system and he hates it. And I know you and I, we approach things differently. So it’s not uncommon for you to want to create it and move things around and make it comfortable for yourself.
Bob: That’s right.
Mary Jo: And you know, many couples, they tend to divide up household chores. This works well for the most part, but the challenge comes when the spouse that handled the financial affairs is suddenly gone, and the surviving or remaining spouse, they’re not prepared or they’re not knowledgeable. So I tell all of my clients, you don’t have to know how to build the clock, but you do need to know where the clock is, what it’s for, and how the hands work. I hope that analogy makes sense, but I do think it paints a picture in your mind’s eye.
Bob: I think it’s a great analogy.
Mary Jo: You know, you’re learning to manage new tasks from chores to household repairs to finances. This takes time, but it can be done. You want to save major financial decisions until a time when you’re not feeling quite so overwhelmed, however.
Bob: And we want to give you some great resources, too, because we have a lot of previous podcasts episodes you might find helpful. Like from last year, 2018, our first one, “What God’s Word Says About Money”. Third one was “Virtues To Look For When Choosing A Financial Advisor”. Our fourth one right after it was on “Estate Planning The Right Way And The Wrong Way”. Then, we did one on episode 13 about investing and the emotions that go with that called “The Emotional Investor” and even earlier this year we did one on setting financial goals. That was 15. 17 was “The Need For Financial Planning”. Another one we did was “Diversification. What It Really Means”. We did one on “Biblical Viewpoints Of Money And Wealth”. That’s a Bible study that I’ve written. Feel free to give us a call and we’ll get a copy of that out to you or you can go on Amazon and again, just put in “Biblical Viewpoints Of Money And Wealth” and get a copy. We did one with a great guest – “What You Need To Know About Medicare”. Just recently Episode 47 was “Financial Mistakes We All Make”. 49 was really good about titling of assets. It’s called “What’s In A Name”. Now, you can go to our website at christianfinancialpodcast.com and see all these. I don’t expect you to remember all of these episode numbers, but they’re all listed in there and Jenna’s done a great job, who helps us put all this together, about listing these and finding them. And finally, moving forward after years of being a couple, it can be very upsetting to be alone. So you may find in time that it’s helpful to make plans to be active, have something to do every day, develop new hobbies, start an activity you have always wanted to do with that spouse, but they just weren’t interested in doing. So Mary Jo, I know you got some other things that you want to share here.
Mary Jo: I think one of the things that is the hardest is just to get started. So take one step and then you’ll find that the next day it’s easier to take a second step, but sometimes it is just getting started that’s the hardest thing. Consider joining a bridge club, take up golf, find a group and travel, create new adventures, make new friends, and allow family and friends to help. If they ask how they can help, don’t brush them off. Find something specific they can do where you would be grateful for the help. They’re just looking to you for direction, so give them something to do. Check out books on becoming a widow or widower. There are tons of resources available. The same is true with divorce. Get a pet. I keep asking for one. My husband keeps saying no, so it might be the time. I know in our neighborhood we have a lot of widows and widowers and it just seems like every one of them has a dog, but it gets them out of house. They have to walk the dog, so it definitely seems like a good step.
Bob: And they provide that unconditional love. That’s what’s so amazing.
Mary Jo: Absolutely. They sit next to you. They let you pet them…sometimes, but it can fill that void. Create new memories with your kids and your grandkids. I’ve heard it said that we should all work to create a rich life and not just a life of riches.
Bob: So as we’re getting close to the end here, explore your money future. What are your thoughts about money and how is that different than the way your spouse may have felt about it? What money fears or concerns do you have? Explore how much is enough? Are you in good shape financially? Are you better off than you thought? What do you want to see changed about your financial future? Do you want to create a family legacy? Become more of a giver? Save more, spend more? What’s your money style? Are you a saver or a hoarder or an avoider or a steward? When it comes to your investments, is your risk tolerance different than that of your spouse that’s no longer around. Do you need to take steps to understand what you now have? What’s your vision for your end of life care? Do you have a plan in place for you? Have you communicated that plan to the ones you love most?
Mary Jo: In the book, “Moving Forward On Your Own. A Financial Guidebook For Widows”, Kathleen M. Rehl, who was a PhD, she includes a section on the wheel of life and it’s a great exercise for all of us to consider to create a more meaningful life. It has a nice visual and it really struck me. The wheel of life contains the following sections. So first on your paper, you want to draw a big wheel with different sections. You’re going to have personal and spiritual growth, financial wellbeing, intellectual engagement, productive pursuits, leisure, recreation, health care and physical fitness, close relationships and family, community and social relationships. So once you’ve drawn the wheel and put in all those sections, then answer the following: “What segment do you want to focus on? What do you want to change the most? And what is one small step you can take that will help you get this section closer to the center of your life?” So think about that in each of these areas and see what you want to change to create the life you want to have. Now’s the chance to make that change.
Bob: So we hope today has been a really good podcast for you. I know there’s a lot of great information here. And remember, you can always go to our website, to christianfinancialpodcast.com. Click on this episode, “Loss Of A Spouse”, and we put the script under our podcast. So you can look at all of this information that we’ve presented today, and if you’ve suddenly found yourself single due to the death of a spouse or a divorce, we hope you’ve found this very helpful. Remember, it’s just one day at a time, one step at a time. You are stronger than you think you are, and many people love you and want to help. So let them, God loves you, and so do we.
Mary Jo: You’ve been listening to Christian Financial Perspectives. Join us next week as we explore more about how to apply biblical wisdom to your financial situations.
Bob: To make sure you don’t miss any of our podcasts, you can subscribe to Christian Financial Perspectives on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. To learn more about integrating your faith with your finances, visit out website at ciswealth.com or call 830-609-6986.
Mary Jo: That’s all for now until next week.
Comments from today’s show are for informational purposes only and not to be considered investment advice or recommendations to buy or sell any company that may have been mentioned or discussed. The opinions expressed are solely those of the hosts, Bob Barber and Mary Jo Lyons. Bob and Mary Jo do not provide tax advice and encourage you to seek guidance from a tax professional. Investment advisory services offered through Christian Investment Advisors Inc. DBA Christian Financial Advisors, a registered investment advisor.