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Widows: You Don't Need to do Anything Now, You Have Time Thumbnail

Widows: You Don't Need to do Anything Now, You Have Time

Investment Family Women Financial Planning

I am blessed to work with a great group of clients. Unfortunately, many of them have been through the process of losing a spouse. Every situation presents itself differently, and every widow or widower I speak with has dealt differently with the grieving process. This is to be expected as we are all individuals and the relationships we are losing were all built upon very different foundations. Thus, when I am asked for general advice about dealing with finances after a major loss, I usually hesitate as there is no one correct answer for everyone. But, there is one piece of advice that I have heard consistently from widows and widowers, namely, that you have time. 

For most people, the grieving process can take anywhere from 3 months to a year, and for some, much longer. There is no "correct" amount of time for this process to play out as everyone will go through the process at a different pace and will be affected in a different manner. Thus, the idea of waiting to make any major decisions for at least six months is a good one. This would include decisions such as moving, changing jobs,  choosing an advisor and how/where to invest ones funds. Ideally, you would have had plenty of time with your spouse prior to their passing to make sure that their final wishes are known and financial details are in order. This would include reviewing insurance coverages, financial accounts and estate planning documents and related goals. 

Once you find yourself in a position where you feel like you have control over your finances and your life, only then should you begin the process of starting to wade back into major life and financial decisions. One of the more important decisions will be finding an appropriate financial advisor. Before you begin looking for an advisor I would suggest that you take some time to get all of your financial paperwork in order so that you know what and where your various assets are held. (Make sure you are paying all of your bills in the meantime.) This would include tracking down retirement account statements, online investment accounts, savings accounts, etc. Once you have all of your paperwork assembled and you understand the big picture view, you will be better positioned to speak with an advisor but you don't need to worry about not having your insurance proceeds invested. There will be plenty of time to do this once you have built an appropriate plan with your advisor. 

When selecting an advisor, there is no rush in finding an advisor with whom you are comfortable. Finding someone who shares your values and will act in your best interests (as a fiduciary) can take time and is worth it. I would suggest that you look for recommendations from trusted friends and that you be very specific about what you are looking for in an advisor relationship. If you have inherited a relationship from your spouse take the time to be sure that the relationship works for you. Don't let inertia guide you. While it may be hard, investing time up-front to make sure you find an advisor that shares your values and with whom you are comfortable is critical. This is a long term relationship and as such it should be what you want. If you need financial planning help in addition to investment management services,  looking for an independent financial planner with both capabilities may be important. I would suggest that you find the names of three to five independent advisors for you to interview to see if there is a good fit. I recommend an independent Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) as they will not have an incentive to sell you a product but will be able to work with you to develop a plan that meets your needs.  I would also suggest that at a minimum you look for an advisor with Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation and if you are looking for investment advice, you should also look for a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation. If you are looking for tax help,  a CPA or EA (Enrolled Agent) designations are helpful. 

I realize there is a lot to digest in here, but you have time to make your decision (provided there is no immediate financial issue that requires immediate attention.) Take your time to find a good independent, fiduciary advisor. Make sure you get all of your questions answered to your satisfaction and don't be pressured into doing anything that doesn't feel right to you. You can always take a friend along to your meetings with you to get a second opinion and ask the questions you may not have thought about. Investing the time up front, when you are ready, will pay dividends in the long term. Don't rush, work at your own pace and make this big decision when you feel you are ready, but not before.