By Eileen Ortega, CTFA
For most couples, each partner assumes certain “roles” in the relationship, whether it be the primary caregiver for the children, primary breadwinner, family “CFO,” or otherwise. These roles develop out of necessity (no one can do it all), skill set, or mere default.
In my experience, it is usually the wife who carries the responsibility of day-to-day “life management”—paying the bills, running the household, etc.—while the spouse handles the big picture of the family’s financial plan.
Ideally, there will be overlap in responsibilities to help keep both spouses aware and on the same page of all the issues that make up their lives. Realistically, however, life can be too chaotic, busy, and difficult for each to be well-versed in the other’s daily responsibilities. Over the relationship, spouses learn to simply trust each other. They know that they don’t have to worry about every single issue since the other has it handled.
This reliance on the other works well—until something happens. Until there is an illness, or a spouse passes. Then everything that had been shared now falls on the surviving spouse.
As a financial advisor, I work with new widows learning all the things that they once relied on their spouses to handle. This task can be overwhelming and feel downright impossible. They feel ill-prepared to take on something that feels foreign. Where do they start? What questions should they ask? What do they need to know to ensure that they are protected?
One particular need is to trust when it comes to taking over their financial life management. It can feel easier to hire someone to fill the other responsibilities left behind by their spouse, like house projects and car maintenance. But when it comes to financial management, these women have a sense they must become the expert. THIS cannot be outsourced.
Why Do Our Finances Require Us to Be an Expert?
There is a difference between being an expert and being informed. If we were experts in every aspect of our lives, we would be exhausted! Instead, we rely on others to keep us Informed, to arm us with the information we need to make the best decisions for our well-being.
Our doctors keep us informed on our health, accountants on our taxes, mechanics on our car repairs, etc. We rarely feel the need to get a medical degree or learn how to fix our cars, but somehow, we have the idea that if we don’t know exactly what to invest in, then we are irresponsible with our finances. This feeling is likely because social media and 24-hour news cycles with an hourly pulse on the “markets” keep us forever worried about “the next financial collapse.”
Instead of earning a degree in finance when we are in such a fragile state, why don’t we put that energy into finding a financial professional we can trust to manage our finances? Then we can spend our time healing, finding our footing, and discovering our new normal.
Like our doctor or our mechanic, the financial planner can help fill the void in roles left by our spouse’s death and guide us in making the best decisions for our financial future, which is likely to now look very different.
As women, we tend to have good “instincts” or “gut feelings” about the people in our lives. We should use our best instinct to find the right advisor to help us with this part of our lives. Someone who can fill the role of our “life CFO.”
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
Choosing Your Best Life CFO
The loss of a spouse is devastating. Beyond the grief of losing our life partner, so many things that we hadn’t thought about are now suddenly at the forefront, requiring decisions. Things like Social Security and pension benefits, life insurance claims, and tax and estate planning, to name a few. Where do you start? How do all these things work together?
If you’ve never thought about these issues until now, it’s unlikely that you want to become an expert in each and every one of them. It is, however, essential that you understand what is necessary versus optional, and how each of the moving parts contributes to your long-term financial security.
Like your physician, there are financial professionals who have become experts in the issues you face so that they can guide you through the process—at your pace, at your comfort level, and in your best interest. You and your spouse may have worked with a financial planner who made sense at the time, but now you may need someone who can guide you in the challenges you face as a widow.
I have worked with women who were told by their financial advisor after their spouse passed: “Don’t worry. We will just continue with what your husband was doing.” This was a huge red flag, given that at no point did the advisor realize that the widow’s financial circumstances had changed dramatically. Her husband’s income was gone, and the investment account was now her only source of financial security.
Not only that, but the advisor didn’t bother to explain that she would be able to access her husband’s Social Security benefits. The advisor was not the “expert” she needed.
The most important financial decision you can make once you come up for air is the expert who will guide you through the coming months and years. They may not be the person your spouse chose. They should be someone who understands you, your estate and financial plan, and your needs, and who can step into your life as part of the team taking the burden off your shoulders.
Live the life you choose that will bring you peace, joy, and eventually newfound happiness.
Our fiduciary wealth management firm in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, helps women find their financial footing after their spouse has passed. We invite you to schedule a consultation today.