This article was written and submitted by Craig Meadows. Image from Shutterstock.
We all know when we get married that one of us will outlive the other. Unfortunately, when the time comes, we are never fully prepared mentally, physically, or fiscally. If you are trying to assist an aging loved one who has recently become a widow or widower, one of the best things you can do is encourage them to make sound financial decisions.
The West Laurel Hill Cemetery blog shares a few ways to help them get a handle on their finances.
When you have two people handling different aspects of running a household, information doesn’t always stay in one place. Your surviving senior might know where the checkbook is, but he or she may have no clue about automatically paid accounts, life insurance policies, or even how much money they have in savings. Help your loved one get organized. This starts with going through the mail, checking the deceased spouse’s emails, and looking through lockboxes, both at home and at the bank, to locate information about accounts and assets.
Get copies of documents.
Before a life insurance claim can be processed, your loved one will need a copy of the death certificate. National Cremation recently asked funeral directors across the country how many copies are typically needed; the general consensus is between eight and 12. In addition to life insurance claims, you will need a certified death certificate to cash in on any 401(k) or pension plans. The mortgage or utilities companies might also request a copy before transferring accounts into the surviving spouse’s name.
Know their cash flow.
As soon as possible, encourage your recently widowed relative to get a handle on how much money they have, what’s coming in, and what’s going out. EveryDollar asserts that budgeting starts by knowing not only income but also fixed and common monthly expenses. You can help your senior loved one save by encouraging them to find senior discounts, look for reduced-cost transportation, and consider cheaper living accommodations.
Help them decide where to live.
Most experts recommend waiting at least one year after the death to make any major life transitions, such as moving to a new home. However, this is not always possible, and their budget and health should be given more weight than generic advice. Once you have an idea of whether they can afford their current home — and live there safely — then you can begin looking at other options. Ask about their desires for downsizing; if they might like to be near friends, a small apartment at an independent living community might be a wise option. Or maybe they would prefer a condo or apartment in a more urban area in a neighborhood that’s close to medical centers and shopping.
Get help when they want to remain at home.
Many seniors choose to stay in their own home, even if it means living alone for the first time in decades. If this is their choice, don’t push to move unless it is necessary. Help them find ways to stay where they are most comfortable. This might mean applying for veterans aid and attendance or other benefits available through the VA if they are a veteran or the spouse of a veteran. Keep in mind, however, that many veterans and/or widows are often denied, and you might want to contact an elder law attorney to ensure they get everything to which they are entitled.
When a loved one is suffering the loss of a spouse, it’s difficult to stand by and watch them grieve. Although you cannot take away the pain, you can help them navigate areas unknown. When this is finances, start by creating a budget. You can also ease some of their worries by helping them make smart choices on where to live and keeping them at home if a change of address is not in the plan. More importantly, let them lean on you for support.