Q: I have seen a few friends become widows and it suddenly occurred that it could happen to me! What do I do to prepare myself in case my husband passes away before I do?
A: Preparation will always make a stressful situation more manageable. When a loss occurs suddenly and someone is thrust into grief while having to manage affairs, it is very overwhelming. I commend you for wanting to look ahead and plan just in case.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of widows in the US is 59-years-old. Yet many women are unprepared and have never thought through what they will do if this happens to them. While it is difficult and upsetting to imagine becoming a widow or widower, it can never hurt to be prepared. In fact, it may help you and your spouse have some important conversations about your wishes.
There are concrete things to talk about and understand while planning for the unexpected. First, you want to consider the estate. Your estate is made up of all your assets, property, and possessions. If you do not have a trust, then consider meeting with an estate planning attorney to talk about the need for a trust or a will. You want to ensure that your estate is passed down as you wish, and that your heirs can avoid probate. Probate is the legal procedure your estate goes through after you pass away, and you can try and avoid it with the right legal documents. If your estate must go through probate, it will cost your heirs money, time and aggravation.
The estate planning attorney can also help you and your spouse create your advance healthcare directive. This will state who you want to make healthcare decisions for you should you no longer be able. The attorney will also set up the Powers of Attorneys for who you want to designate to make legal and financial decisions for you. This process is an opportunity to talk with your spouse about each of your wishes for medical interventions and end of life.
It is important to have a clear and honest discussion ahead of time about your end of life wishes and put both of your wishes in writing. This will make it much less stressful if the time comes that you need to enact the document. You can feel confident that you are only following through with your spouse’s wishes, rather than having to make difficult choices on your own.
Review with your spouse the location of all important documents including financial documents. Make sure you know where the accounts are located and create a list of each account with pertinent numbers and contact people. Remember to include account passwords and login information on your list so you will have easy access to the accounts if needed. If you have a Certified Financial Planner you work with, be sure to have that person’s contact information handy.
When a spouse passes away, the stress and grief it causes will no doubt cloud your thinking. It will be easy to forget what you planned to do. Put all your plans in writing ahead of time. Talk with your spouse about wishes for a funeral, burial, or cremation. While these conversations may feel difficult at first, sometimes the process may feel freeing as it allows you to make sure your wishes will be honored.
Having a checklist on what to do and in what order can be a useful tool. AARP provides valuable information on what to do first here https://www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2020/when-loved-one-dies-checklist.html
Besides the practical planning there is also the emotional planning. How do you imagine your lifestyle as a widow? Consider if you would stay in your home or move near children or close friends. Think about the household chores that your spouse is responsible for now and if you could manage them on your own.
There are some things you will not be able to know until the time comes. But thinking through the possibilities can make the difficult times easier. Consider asking your friends what they wish they had done or known before their spouse passed away. The future is always unknown. Hopefully by having your plans in order, you can focus your energy on living in the day to day and enjoying the time you have with your spouse.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at email@example.com