4 Money Management Tips for Transitional Times

Kimberly Foss, CFP®, CPWA®

Sr. Wealth Advisor


A female wealth advisor provides a beginner’s guide to finances for recently bereaved or divorced women.

Two women speaking to each other

Women at any age can find themselves thrust unexpectedly into the role of financial decision-maker due to divorce or bereavement, with little to no preparation or experience. As I can attest from personal experience, these women may feel not only a sense of loss but also other emotions, including confusion, anger, and concerns about financial security. Many clients in this position have told me: “I never thought I would be here.” I remember thinking the same thing following my own divorce. Regardless of age, no one is entirely prepared for such loss—of love, of family, of partner. Seizing the moment while under duress takes a special kind of strength.

A woman can lack financial control at any age, but half of those age 55 and older report that their spouse has the primary role in money management. Many of these women grew up during a time when household finances—especially investments—were considered a man’s job. These women may have been involved in expenditures for day-to-day food, clothing, and entertainment, but they were comfortable leaving the long-term financial decisions to their husband. If he’s no longer in the picture, they can feel vulnerable and alone. It’s important for them to know that it’s never too late to learn new financial lessons that could play a vital role in their future well-being.

Surviving and thriving financially, especially when you find yourself suddenly single, is an achievable goal. With the right help and advice, you can create a path forward and move with confidence. Here are four important tips for women who are in unfamiliar financial territory due to bereavement or divorce:


Get a handle on debt.

Women who become single are often surprised by the debt left behind by their deceased or divorced partner. They should be able to understand obligations such as a second lien on a home, loans against a 401(k) or other retirement plan, and credit card balances and interest rates. Because debt will have to be addressed—whether during probate for a deceased spouse or as part of a divorce settlement—it’s best to have an accurate picture of finances so you can make informed decisions.


Keep the house—or not.

While the family home is typically a couple’s most valuable asset, you might be better off without it. If the house is saddled with a home equity line of credit or significant upkeep costs, selling it and using the proceeds for other investments may be in your best interest. It might also be advisable to obtain an independent appraisal of the house’s value, so you can make an informed decision about what to do.


Decide whether to work.

Many women, especially in their 40s and 50s, may decide that returning to the workforce is the best option. A fiduciary financial advisor can help you analyze your cash flow and obligations to determine how much income you need for a balanced household budget.


Get benefits you deserve.

If widowed, you might be eligible for benefits from your deceased spouse’s Social Security account. If you have children living at home, they might be eligible for survivor benefits until they reach age 18. Widows aged 62 and older should inquire about Social Security benefits based on their deceased spouse’s earnings record. They also might be entitled to benefits from their spouse’s pension and be beneficiary of their spouse’s 401(k) or other retirement plan. Women going through a divorce should carefully review their spouse’s retirement accounts, as these are typically subject to division between the parties in a settlement. Terms are governed by state law, so your attorney is the best source of advice.

Everyone’s situation is different, of course, which means you need guidance and advice based on accurate knowledge of your unique circumstances. A fiduciary financial advisor can help you work through the details and develop a plan for moving forward with confidence.

Mercer Advisors Inc. is a parent company of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. and is not involved with investment services. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an investment advisor with the SEC. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements.

All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change. Some of the research and ratings shown in this presentation come from third parties that are not affiliated with Mercer Advisors. The information is believed to be accurate but is not guaranteed or warranted by Mercer Advisors. Content, research, tools and stock or option symbols are for educational and illustrative purposes only and do not imply a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell a particular security or to engage in any particular investment strategy. For financial planning advice specific to your circumstances, talk to a qualified professional at Mercer Advisors.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) owns the CFP® certification mark, the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification mark, and the CFP® certification mark (with plaque design) logo in the United States, which it authorizes use of by individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

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