Figuring It Out: Helping Mom Take the Financial Reins after Dad’s Death

As Baby Boomers continue to age, more and more of them are facing the reality of life without a spouse. Because of women’s statistically longer life expectancies, many Boomer women will be forced to adapt to widowhood, with all the new responsibilities and liabilities that entails. Finally, because many in this generation grew up with the assumption that “the money is the man’s business,” large numbers of recently widowed Boomer women are confronted with a steep learning curve with respect to their finances. Recent reports indicate that while older women are interested in learning more about how to handle finances and investing, few programs are available to effectively meet their needs. Some 70% of women ages 40–65 report interest in financial education, but only 16% have ever actually received it.

In other words, if you are the adult child of a newly widowed woman, chances are high that you may need to help Mom get control of her finances. But where should you start? And how can you decide what your mother needs most, and when?

  1. Communicate early and often. Don’t wait to get involved. While it is obvious that none of us think as clearly during the grieving process as we do at other times, it is important to encourage your mom to start considering sources of income, shifts in the household budget, and other financial aspects of life that are likely to change with the death of her spouse. Sensitive questioning will help you determine how involved your mom was with various financial matters. Even if she is well-informed and savvy about where the accounts are and what’s in them, it will be important for her to know that you are concerned and willing to help. If your parents were fortunate enough to have a good relationship with a professional financial advisor, it’s probably also worth at least making a visit to the advisor to ask if there’s anything you can do to help with your mom’s financial transitions to widowhood.
  1. Help with the paperwork. Your mother is going to need several copies of the death certificate to provide to financial institutions, the Social Security office, and possibly other locations. Offer to help with this task. The funeral home will typically provide these for you as a child of the deceased, and you may even want to retain a few copies for yourself, in case Mom’s state of mind is such that she misplaces the copies you obtain for her. You may also want to assist with tasks like trips to the Social Security office (or related online processes), the bank, the attorney’s office, and so forth.
  1. Ensure Mom’s access to accounts. If your parents had joint bank accounts or joint investing accounts (typically, joint tenancy with right of survivorship or “transfer on death” accounts), your mother can probably continue her access uninterrupted. But if she left the money matters to her husband, you might need to help her gather the monthly statements as they come in, in order to assess where all the funds reside and the amounts in the accounts. Also, these days, it is more and more common for account holders to receive online statements and notices, rather than mailed hard copies, so you may need to be prepared to help her navigate that process, as well. According to online security company Avast, only 29% of online account holders surveyed had taken actual steps to ensure a survivor had access to online accounts. In a best case, your father left a list of accounts, with user names and passwords. But if he didn’t, you’ll need a death certificate and a testamentary letter (obtained from the executor of the estate) that verifies Mom’s authority to access and use the account.
  1. Make sure bills are being paid. In the emotional fog surrounding bereavement, it’s so easy to lose track of even simple matters like paying the utility bill, the mortgage, or credit card accounts. Offer to help your mom gather these statements so you can verify due dates, amounts, and other details.
  1. Understand income sources. Depending on your parents’ ages, they may be receiving income payments from Social Security, a pension, retirement accounts, and other sources. You may need to help your mom list these, along with the monthly amounts, so she can keep track of her monthly income. If Mom is at least 60, she may qualify for Social Security survivor benefits; you may need to help her check on this. If your father owned life insurance, help her make sure the claim for death benefits is filed properly.

These are just a few of the ways you may be able to help your mother start to gain control of her finances in the wake of your father’s death. And of course, one of the greatest benefits for persons in this situation is having a solid relationship with a fiduciary financial advisor who is ethically and professionally obligated to provide guidance that places the client’s interests ahead of everything else. As a fiduciary financial advisor and wealth manager, The Planning Center assists recently bereaved clients with making financial plans and arrangements that allow them to move confidently into this new phase of life. Learn more by visiting our website.