Part Three of a three-part series
Perhaps the only thing more emotionally devastating than the loss of a spouse is the trauma of having to pick up the pieces of your life and move forward, especially for women who have never had to handle such day-to-day issues as managing their finances.
“With the older generation, it’s often the first time these women have had to deal with finances,” says Cathleen Burns, managing principal of Wachovia Securities Financial Network’s St. Augustine Investment Management in Florida. “On top of their grief, they now have to deal with a whole new set of responsibilities.”
In fact, Burns finds so many older widows sitting in her office who are completely unprepared for the task ahead that she keeps a checklist ready. The checklist gives the women something concrete to focus on, and helps Burns make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.
One of the earliest and biggest issues to be addressed is cash flow. Depending on how the husband’s estate was set up, there could be a significant lag time before the widow can take control of the assets. Meanwhile, death benefits need to be identified and applied for as quickly as possible, and that requires a copy of the death certificate.
“I had one situation where there was a typo in the social security number on the death certificate,” Burns says. “It took two months to correct one digit, and in the meantime we couldn’t do anything without that piece of paper. We couldn’t pay out insurance. We couldn’t transfer accounts. We couldn’t change the pension fund.”