How to Handle the Finances After Your Husband Dies

If you’re a widow left to handle the finances after your husband dies, you may feel overwhelmed and frightened. Many women don’t know how their husbands manage the money, household bills, and other financial tasks.

Here, money expert Pam Stearns describes how to understand and handle your finances…

“It’s very common for women to feel both financially and emotionally lost after her husband dies on,” says Stearns. “Women are numb, lost, emotionally drained, abandoned, paralyzed, lonely, fragile, angry, weak, aimless, forgetful, frightened, overwhelmed, disconnected, vulnerable, relieved, pained and guilty.  Some of these feelings surface and some stay hidden.”

A husband’s death is possibly the most devastating event you’ll ever experience – you may even be wondering if you’ll  be able to make it on your own. If you feel overwhelmed and scared about what to do next, read Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. It’s a unique guidebook that helps widows be more confident, knowledgeable and secure about handling their finances. It integrates basic financial information with self-reflective exercises that encourage financial self-assurance – and the author, Kathleen, is honest about her own struggles as a widow.

Here are Stearns’ tips for understanding finances after your husband’s death.

Understanding Finances After Your Husband Dies

First, a startling statistic about widows: The average age of widowhood in the United States is 56. Women usually marry older men and on average live seven years longer than men.

Avoid making impulsive financial and life-changing decisions

You may be asking the questions many widows ask about finances, families, and life in general: “Should I move out of our house to a smaller home?”   “Should I move in with our kids?”   “Should I move away from my neighborhood and to another city to be close to our kids?”

Here’s the question I’d be asking: “Where did my husband keep the passwords for our bills – I know he made online payments, but I don’t know how to access our accounts!”

Most decisions should not be made in haste after a husband dies. Many loved ones want to help, and encourage widows to quickly move on…but it’s strongly advised for you to take your time adjusting to life without your husband.  After a year or so, you’ll be in a much better frame of mind to make life-altering decisions.

If you’re a widow who feels paralyzed about making money decisions (which often happens), read 4 Tips for Facing Financial Fears.

Talk with an objective person about your options

Mary (one of Pam’s clients) was in her mid 40s when her 60-year-old husband suddenly died of a heart attack.  She received a million dollar life insurance settlement and asked Pam to help her decide what to do with the money.  Her initial comments were “the wolves are circling and everyone wants to tell me what to do with the money.  I am scared and lost and feel very vulnerable.”

Pam and Mary discussed options for her life.  How could she reinvent herself?  What are her cash flow needs?  Would she like to get involved in philanthropy?  Their discussions were much more than just about how to deal with money and household bills after her husband died.  They discussed new paths and new alternatives for her new life.

Handling the finances after your husband dies isn’t just about money; it’s about envisioning the future and creating a path to happiness.

Differentiate between immediate and long-term financial decisions

For recent widows, it’s important to differentiate between immediate (arrange for funeral, select an attorney, review cash flow and liquidity needs, collect benefits, check health insurance, settle estate, etc.) and can-wait (long-term) decisions.  This helps reduce anxiety and confusion.

Please don’t forget to take care of your emotional health! For advice from a widow, read 4 Tips for Grieving Widows or Widowers.

You may also be interested in Starting Over in Your 60s – After Your Husband Dies.

And if you have any thoughts on understanding finances after your husband dies, please comment below…

Stearns founded Navigating Wealth to help women through major life transitions (loss of spouse, divorce, job changes, etc.).  


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2 thoughts on “How to Handle the Finances After Your Husband Dies”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Anne,

    Without knowing what kind of debt your husband has and whether you’re a joint credit card holder, co-loanee, etc — it’s impossible to say if you’re responsible for his debt!

    It’s best to talk to a financial consultant about your finances after your husband dies, so you can get information that’s specifically tailored to YOU. You may not even have to pay for that consultation — many planners will meet with you for an hour for free, to go over your information.

    Good luck, and may you and your husband live long, healthy, happy lives!

    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post blog ..Help Sticking to Your Budget – 5 Steps to Achieving Financial Freedom =-.