As I work with many widows, I often am asked about advice for settling estates and handling financial affairs after the death of their spouse.
In most marriages in modern America, one partner generally takes the lead on financial affairs. Sometimes the husband, sometimes the wife, but typically one partner does most of the research and information gathering, and then shares it with their partner. There is a universe of information for the asking about how to set up estates, wills, trusts, all those financial estate instruments. It’s also not difficult to find plenty of advisors, in the shape of lawyers and financial planners, to help us set up our plans the way that we want them.
What is not so available, not talked about enough, is how to find good advice to the surviving spouse. Good is the operative word here. Talk to any widow and you’ll quickly hear that they received advice from well-meaning (or maybe not) family and friends. We are swiftly told all kinds of things we should do, according to people who are not, and often never have, walking in our shoes. I coined a phrase about it “Don’t SHOULD on me!” because I was besieged by advice-givers. That phrase became very popular with my followers, as they knew exactly what I meant.
I’ll give you a personal example. My husband died quite suddenly, from a massive stroke. Poof! He was gone. In the aftermath, a few months out, one of our best friends, his best friend rode me for weeks to sell his car. What he didn’t know is that my husband’s car was paid for in full. The insurance on that car, the tags, everything had recently been paid also, and to get a rebate would only have brought me about $200 at most.
What else he didn’t know was that I liked to drive that car and I liked to sit in it. Doing that brought me a lot of comfort. My husband was a smoker who never smoked in our home or around me, but he smoked in that car. It smelled like him, and it was wonderful. What I didn’t know was that the same friend had hopes of buying that car from me…at a discount, no doubt. He was not so dispassionate or objective. Thankfully, I had the fortitude to stand my ground in that instance. In some others? Not so much.
In scarce supply is advice from dispassionate and objective people who have a firm grasp on logic, money matters and a familiarity of how very dangerous the emotions of “widow fog” or “grief fog” can be. The loss of a spouse or other very close relation renders almost all grievers into a level of shock and confusion that is rarely discussed but nearly universally experienced. Decision-making skills in the midst of deep grief deteriorate significantly, and they take a long time to come back.
In the short run, here really good pointers, in general terms from the folks at Probate Stars, an information resource website for people with information on all 50 states. Just like in my article about how to hire a contractor https://widowlution.com/how-to-hire-a-contractor-new-skills-widows-need/ they offer some really good common sense suggestions for new widows:
In the midst of the "widow fog":
- Don't agree to anything.
- Educate yourself about the rights of a surviving spouse in your state.
- After you've educated yourself, consult a legal professional. If you have some knowledge before you contact a professional, you'll be clearer about your objectives in seeking legal representation.
They offer a webpage dedicated to learning about your rights in your state, even before lining up a probate professional. Find it here: https://probatestars.com/surviving-spouse/ and look up your own state.
The thing about working with a reputable professional probate lawyer is that while they will charge you a fee, they will earn and deserve it. They spend years learning their profession, and even more staying current and gaining experience. They will charge a fee that they earn, but they can advise you and direct you through the process while they are unburdened by emotions and hidden personal agendas.
My own experience with the attorney who handled my husband’s estate was a great one. He gave a lot of assistance, guiding me through the details and giving me sound advice. If I had it to do over? I would have followed even more of it than I did. He was a very big help.
I encourage you to do as Probate Stars suggest and educate yourself about your rights, don’t rush into decisions before they need to be made, and enlist the help of a professional.
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