What Widows Need to Know

There are over 11.5 million widows in the US today, according to the US Census Bureau. These women have to adjust to all sorts of changes, including becoming the sole decision maker in matters of their finances. Many women are not comfortable handling money. The whole process can seem complicated and daunting, but it is important that you know what you own and how it’s held. Once you have tamed everything it should seem much less overwhelming in the face of tragedy.

            Know Your Money. In the case of finances, ignorance is not bliss. Organize all your finances and important documents. Find out where everything is, and how it’s held. Organize the information including passwords, companies, statements etc. This is important not only so you know where your assets are, but also so someone else could take care of your finances if you become incapacitated or pass away.

            Get All the Benefits You Can. As a whole, widows are one of the most impoverished groups in the country. There are many forms of assistance available to widows. Some may have been directly set up by your late husband, so contact any life insurance companies your husband may have had a policy with, and check to see if you are entitled to any widow’s benefits from his employer. Rollover your late husband’s IRA accounts into your name so as not to lose those tax benefits. You may want to check with the state for unclaimed funds. There also may be money available from Social Security or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

            Social Security Benefits. Widows may be entitled to receive Social Security benefits if the deceased spouse had earned enough work credits to qualify for Social Security benefits on his own. You can receive benefits as early as age 60, and can receive social security disability benefits as early as age 50.

            Veteran’s Benefits. If your husband was a veteran, it may be worthwhile to see what benefits you are entitled to. Veteran’s widows may qualify for assistance, but they have to apply for the funds. There are several Veteran pensions, and according to a VA estimate, only one in seven of veteran’s surviving spouses, who likely could qualify, actually get the monthly checks.

            Title all assets properly. As you’re sorting through paperwork, you may find assets that are still held in your late husband’s name or jointly titled to the two of you. If you have not yet done so, it is important that you get these assets transferred into your name alone. With joint assets, accounts with both your names, this can usually be done by taking a death certificate to the bank or department of motor vehicles and filling out the appropriate paperwork there. If there are assets in your late husband’s name alone you may need to open a probate estate.

            Set Up Your Estate Plan. Once you know where everything is, and it is all titled in your name, it is time to think about where you would like your assets to go when you pass away. Think about whether you would like your assets split equally between your children or if you would like certain individuals to inherit more or less. If you don’t have children, or are not close to them, think about who you would like to inherit when you pass away such as your siblings, nieces and nephews, close friends, or charities. Make sure you name new beneficiaries for any retirement account or life insurance policy you may have.

Take Care of Yourself. Most importantly, you need to figure out who you want to take care of you, should something happen. Who would be making your health care decisions for you if you were in the hospital? Who would manage your financial affairs should you no longer be able to? One of the things a widow has to adjust to is being on her own and taking care of herself. Make sure you have a good support system and a plan as to who would take care of you if you were unable.

When your husband passes away, everything changes. One of the changes is that you become in charge of handling your own estate. If you feel overwhelmed, an attorney can help you get everything in order. Remember, you are not alone.

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