How to Review Your Finances After the Death of a Spouse: The First Three Steps

Your spouse has passed away, and now you’re on your own.  The funeral or memorial service is over, and it’s time to look forward.  You know you need to get a handle on your financial picture and plan for the future.  But where should you start?  It’s depressing, daunting, and nerve-wracking even to think about.  But you can do it!

Take a deep breath, and let it out. There are many excellent professionals out there who can help you every step of the way.  I’ll give a brief overview of the most important steps in getting started, but finding someone you trust to help get you (and keep you) on the path to stability and success will help enormously.

  1. Your first step is to figure out what you have. Make a list of all your assets.  This includes bank and brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, the equity in your house, the cash value of life insurance, and other items that can be converted into cash.  Ignore things like jewelry and cars unless you have a 10-carat diamond or a Ferrari you don’t need.  Don’t get too hung up on exact value or details of the different accounts if it will prevent you from moving forward.


  1. If you have over $100,000 in assets not including the equity in your home, you may benefit from a consultation or a relationship with a financial advisor. Our firm can recommend several, but you can, of course, look for one yourself.  Your best bet is a fee-only financial advisor.  Fee-only advisors are paid a percentage of the assets they manage.  The percentage differs, but the 1% range is not unusual.

The reason we like fee-only advisors is that they have the same goals you do – to keep your money safe and make it grow.  If your assets rise in value, they make more – and if your assets lose value, they make less.  If you don’t know where to look for one, but want to find one yourself, you can ask friends or your accountant (if you have one) for a recommendation.

  1. This is also the time to review your estate plan. We highly recommend you speak to an estate planning attorney who is also an Elder Law attorney, and here’s why.  Health care is extremely expensive as you age and can wipe out your life’s savings quickly and completely.  You don’t want to have a great estate plan, but end up with no estate.

An Elder Law attorney can help you structure your estate plan so that it will achieve your goals when you pass away, but also so that it will protect your assets while you are alive.   The U.S. Department of Health website states that 70% of all Americans will need long-term care at some point, and 40% will need nursing home care.  Protecting against this enormous risk can be vital to your long-term comfort and peace of mind.

Finding a professional who works to educate you, who has in-depth experience in the field, and who really cares about you, will give you the best opportunity to put in place a financial plan and an estate plan that reflect and incorporate your personal goals.

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