Lots of things have me thinking about widows. Am I more surrounded by widows and widowers than I used to be, or am I just more aware of it as I get older? Some of both, I suspect.
I just got back a few days ago from a trip to Oregon to check out long-term care facilities for my mother-in-law, the last living grandparent of my children, and thus a widow. My uncle in Framingham, who was like a youngish grandfather to me growing up, became a widower just a few months back – he threw an Easter luncheon for the extended family, a lovely event, so he also is on my mind.
I bit more startling to me, I got word a week or two ago that a high school classmate of mine – not a close friend, but someone I have been in touch with off and on – died unexpectedly, leaving a widow and children behind. Another classmate with whom I have been more in touch lost her husband last year, following a long, difficult illness.
This may seem a bit dreary for springtime, but spring is the time of recovery from the deadness of winter, so it is actually quite appropriate. We can’t stop death – at best, we can slow it down a bit – but we can take charge of what happens after a death.
I almost forgot to mention that a very nice little book just worked its way to the top of my reading pile: Moving Forward on Your Own – Financial Guidebook for Widows, by Kathleen Rehl. Dr. Rehl (she’s a PhD, though in what subject her book does not say) is both a widow and a Certified Financial Planner, so she’s a good person to write such a book. And she does a very nice job of it, addressing both the emotional and the practical, financial issues. (If you have occasion to read it, it’s available on Amazon.). It addresses women specifically, though men could also profit from reading it.
I’m going to leave my copy of it with my wife, in case I myself die unexpectedly. I also have written her (my wife, not Dr. Rehl) a letter expressing my love for her, and informing her about the pension, life insurance, and health benefits she will be entitled to if I go first, who to contact in order to receive them, and providing other information about our finances, where to find financial records, and who to ask for help. As in most families, we have a division of labor, and naturally enough, in our case, I get to pay the bills and do the taxes. Apparently it’s still the case that in a majority of marriages, the husband takes charge of the finances. But not always – my Mom did this when I was growing up, since she had worked in a bank when she was single and was quite adept at balancing a bankbook.
The point is, if you’re the one in your household who has this responsibility, leaving information and instructions for your spouse or partner in case something happens to you – and it could be disability rather than death – is one thing you can do now that could be immensely helpful later.
And don’t forget to update it once a year or so – things change, and obsolete information can be more confusing than no information.
And of course, it’s important to have a will, along with health care proxies and other such documents. Life insurance is still a must for younger families and often for older ones as well (I myself acquired a new life insurance policy at the age of 58), and other financial or legal provisions might be useful as well.
It’s spring. It’s time to clear out the deadwood of winter, and nurture new manifestations of life. It’s also a good time to think about what would happen to the people closest to you if you were not there to do your part any more, or what would happen to you if your partner suffered such a fate. Make some preparations, then move on with your life, knowing that when the inevitable comes, you will not be caught totally unready.
Chuck Yanikoski is a part-time retirement adviser who lives and works in Harvard. For more about him, or to contact him directly, visit www.ChuckYRetirement.com.