Insights for Women: How to be Prepared for the Loss of a Spouse

03.05.2021 - Jennifer McCarthy, Trust Counsel

For most people, the thought of losing a spouse is extremely uncomfortable, to say the least. But it is important for couples—especially wives—to acknowledge this possibility and prepare for it. There were more than 11 million widows in the US when the 2010 census was conducted, compared to almost 3 million widowers.[1] American women outlive men by an average of almost five years.[2]

Whether you handle your own finances or rely on someone else to manage them, I strongly recommend taking the following steps as soon as possible. Not only will you have a thorough understanding of your financial picture, but you also will be prepared to act if needed.

1. Understand Your Financial Life

Losing a family member is a time of great sadness and emotional upheaval. In fact, many women describe being in a “fog” when they are grieving. The last thing you want to be doing during this time is scrambling to find essential financial documents or feeling pressured to make decisions about major issues like selling your home, moving into a senior living community, or being closer to family.

So, it helps to have a basic understanding of how losing your spouse might affect your finances long before it happens. Knowing your options ahead of time will provide you with some comfort, so you can take your time and make these decisions when you feel comfortable making them. 

Your financial picture includes:

  • Major assets and liabilities
    Determine where all bank and investment accounts are maintained regardless of whether they are jointly owned, held in your name, or owned solely by your spouse. Gather insurance policies and titles to real estate. Also, identify any outstanding loans you’ve made or received. If you paid off a mortgage or home equity line of credit, you should have a document from the lender stating the loan has been satisfied.
  • Beneficiary designations
    Confirm that the beneficiary designations on your insurance policies and retirement accounts are up to date and accurate.
  • Important legal documents
    Estate planning documents (wills, trust agreements, health care directives, etc.) should be reviewed regularly and you should know where to find the original documents. Make sure you have access to birth certificates, military discharge papers, marriage certificates, tax returns and current statements for all bank, brokerage, and retirement accounts.
  • Advisor contact information
    Gather business cards or compile a list of your professional advisors (accountant, attorney, financial advisors, etc.) with their contact information—and make sure you aren’t the only one who knows where to find this information.
  • Usernames and passwords
    Keep an up-to-date list of online account information in a safe place and let the right people know where to find it if needed. You also can include provisions in your will and power of attorney documents authorizing certain people to access your digital property (accounts, social media, photographs, etc.).
  • Your credit history
    If you don’t have your own credit history, apply for a credit card or line of credit solely in your name.
2. Open the Lines of Communication

You and your spouse should talk to your financial advisors to outline your goals, discuss your concerns, and ask questions. Your advisors want you to have a clear understanding of your finances, and having these discussions before tragedy strikes will empower you with the information you’ll need to make educated decisions about your future.

To the extent you are comfortable doing so, invite other family members to join the conversation. This will give your children or siblings the information they need to support you during difficult times or in the case of a medical emergency.

3. Bring Everyone Together

Finally, make sure everyone is connected—you, your spouse, and the advisors you work with. Knowing each other will help these professionals share valuable information and understand their roles and responsibilities if they need to work together in the future.

Your Fiduciary Trust team can coordinate efforts among any outside attorneys, accountants, and insurance agents. We become your financial coordinator, bringing everyone together to address all legal, financial, and tax obligations in a timely and efficient manner. Then we can work together to apply for any survivorship benefits you may be entitled to, update your estate plan, and create a roadmap that meets your goals and needs for your financial future.

Start Preparing Today

Fiduciary Trust International can help every generation of your family prepare for life-changing events, whether they are heartbreaking or joyful. For details, please contact your advisor or call us at (877) 384-1111.

[1] Census Bureau, May 2011, “Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2009”.

[2] In 2015, the average life expectancy in the US was 77 years for males and 81.7 years for females.
Source: Census Bureau, Feb. 2020, “Living Longer: Historical and Projected Life Expectancy in the United States, 1960 to 2060”.


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