As published in the Racine Journal Times | February 7, 2013

Do you have a relative or close friend whose spouse recently died? You may be in a unique position to help them through one of the most difficult times in their lives. Too often, we’re at a loss for what to do though. Here are a couple of suggestions for the newly widowed.

First, identify the support network of people who can help during the grieving process. The key to identifying people in the support network is trust so the best place to start is among friends or family. Another important circle of support is professional advisors such as attorneys, accountants and financial advisors. I encourage recent widows to bring a friend or family member to meet with their professional advisors to serve as another set of ears and capture action items.

Another action to take is to prepare an inventory of assets, debts, income and expenses. Start with a blank piece of paper and list the name of each account or asset owned. Also write down the name of any outstanding debt that is owed. On a separate piece of paper, try to list all the sources of income and recurring expenses. This can be especially difficult for spouses who did not previously handle the family’s finances but will nevertheless be crucial to answering a common question – will I have enough income or money in the future?

The third suggestion is to actually not take action—particularly with any decision that is significant and permanent. Of the three suggestions, this is the one that widowed clients have told me is the most valuable because during the first year after the death of a spouse, there’s so much uncertainty and other things on their minds that the ability to postpone major decisions is a great relief.

One example of the type of decision to delay is a change in housing. Not only is moving a significant financial decision but it is also very stressful and difficult to reverse once done. For more guidance, I recommend Kathleen Rehl’s book “Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows.” In less than 80 pages, Kathleen provides a starting point for many widows to enhance their self-confidence about money matters.

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