The importance of women taking an active role in a couple’s financial planning represents more than just jockeying over who gets to control the checking account.
Women on average live longer than men, which means they are going to need more money in retirement or else risk outliving their savings. That means they have a lot at stake. And women – men, too, for that matter – often don’t realize just how long retirement might last. If you retire around age 65, it’s possible your retirement is going to last 25 or 30 years. The death of a spouse can pose numerous financial difficulties. First, the survivor has to deal with the emotional issues associated with grieving, which means some financial decisions may be put on hold. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
You don’t want to rush into any decisions you don’t have to make immediately. But it won’t take long to start experiencing some of the financial consequences. If both spouses were drawing Social Security, one of those monthly checks is about to disappear. If the spouse had a pension, the amount of the check may be reduced for the survivor, or it could be eliminated. We have made improving the retirement outlook for women a significant part of our work. We just recently launched a division of our company called Woman’s Worth designed to focus on not only a woman’s finances, but also her physical and mental health, and her total well-being.
Practice the Day-to-Day and Plan for “Just in Case”
Once you know the big picture, you need to take a turn managing the day-to-day—including bill payment. Sit down with your spouse and do it side-by-side until you get comfortable with it (it doesn’t matter whether you do this electronically or the old-fashioned way, though electronically may make for an easier paper trail). Then take a turn yourself. And, just in case something happens to either one of you, create a master document with all of your accounts’ information: Where and how to access them, including passwords for online accounts.
Create a “What If” Budget
Once you’re fully aware of your financial situation, you need to plan for any changes to the first variable upon the death of a spouse, because your income could drop significantly, says Libbe. Research from the NIRS shows women are 80% more likely to fall into poverty in retirement than men. And the U.S. Census Bureau shows widowed women are twice as likely to live in poverty than widowed men. To pull this budget, gather all your current sources of income—from jobs, Social Security pensions and investments—and calculate what would happen if you had to go it alone. Then, create a new cash flow statement. What are your current expenses—both necessary and discretionary—and will you have the income to support them? If not, where will that money come from? Make sure health care and the house are included in your calculations, says Vasileff. Ask yourself: Will you be able to keep your existing health benefits?