By Lyn A. Dippel | June 2009
A newly widowed woman—or man—has to deal with many complex estate
and financial matters. It can be overwhelming, particularly if the spouse
was the primary financial manager and decision maker. There are some
aspects of financial management that many struggle with in particular.
• Administer estate and get immediate access to money. Settling
the estate can be anywhere from a six- to eighteen-month process.
Widows usually need help to understand the legal process and
terminology, the complex paperwork involved, and the steps needed to
get accounts and assets re-titled and set up so they’re easy to manage.
Accessing funds during his process can be tricky, depending on how well
the original estate plan was drafted.
• Revise cash-flow projections. The widow may no longer receive
pension payment, but sometimes will receive a survivor pension or death
benefits. Social Security payments may decline. Her new tax status as a
single person may affect her cash flow. Expenses often change.
Sometimes the widow will move to a smaller home. All these items must
• Revisit investments. The widow may have received insurance
money that needs to be invested. She may have new beneficiaries and
different cash-flow needs that may suggest a more conservative or more
aggressive investment approach.
• Revise estate plan—a little or a lot. Depending on how the original
plan was created, a widow may or may not need a substantial revision.
Usually, at least beneficiary designations need to be changed and new
contingent beneficiaries named. New powers of attorney usually are
necessary since there is no longer a spouse. A widow should typically
designate someone else to act on her behalf in case she has an
emergency and can’t manage her own affairs, either temporarily or
• Financial education. Often, a recent widow will also need general
financial education if her husband had handled the family’s money.
Competent, honest advice can be hard to find. A financial salesperson
who’s only out to sell a widow mutual funds, annuities or insurance may
seem like your friend but will probably make matters worse. And some
who sincerely want to help are in over their heads. I recommend choosing
a fee-only advisor—one who’s paid by the client, much like a CPA or
lawyer, instead of one who earns commissions by selling products. The
advisor also should have the Certified Financial Planner (CFP®)
Lyn Dippel, JD, CFP, works with many widows as President and CEO at FAI Wealth Management, a wealth management firm in Columbia, MD, and can be contacted at ldippel@investFAI.com.