Financial Advice for Suddenly Single Women

Kara Duckworth

CFP®, CDFA®, Managing Director of Client Experience


Article Summary

  • The odds are high that most women will become single at some point in their lives – even those who are currently married.
  • Making time to understand your finances is crucial and will help you feel confident when dealing with life events.


When – not if – will a woman find herself single? The odds are staggering that women – even those who are currently married – will find themselves single at some point in their lives:

  • An estimated 90% of all women will need to manage their own finances during their lifetime.
  • About half of all U.S. marriages fail,1 and 11 million of the 13 million widowed spouses in the U.S. are women,2 so that means about 80% of women, even married women, will likely be single one day by divorce or widowhood.
  • And with the rise of incapacity from causes like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or disability, another 10% of women may find themselves “alone while partnered.”3
financial; advice for single women

How to Feel Prepared and Confident About Your Finances

What should a woman do to empower herself so that when she becomes solely responsible for her finances, she feels confident in managing this critical part of her life?

  • Make time now to understand your finances—before a life-changing event (like divorce, death of a spouse, or a health diagnosis) hits you. If you have a good handle on your assets and expenses while life is going smoothly, it often provides reassurance in times of stress.
  • Review your estate plan and update it as needed. Discovering that your current intentions and wishes are not included in your estate plan documents is not a lesson you want to learn after a major life event. We recommend reviewing your estate plan once a year.
  • Use your advisor as a resource. Your advisor is there to help you understand your financial situation and run through those “what-if” scenarios to help you get comfortable with your finances. And whatever the future may bring, your advisor can also help you adapt both your financial plans and estate plans.


 Financial Advice for Widows

There are 11 million women in the U.S. who are widowed spouses.2 Losing your spouse is an emotionally difficult time that can make managing financial tasks feel almost impossible. Ask for help if you can, whether it’s from a family member, a close friend, or your advisor, and consider these initial steps:

  • Gather all relevant documents, such as will/trust, life insurance policies, birth certificate, marriage certificate, death certificate (order at least 12 from the funeral home as you will need them to claim benefits), your spouse’s Social Security card, investment account statements, and retirement/pension plan statements.
  • Talk with your estate planning attorney to review your spouse’s will/trust and address beneficiary distributions.
  • Contact financial institutions and begin changing the name on the accounts, as needed.
  • Notify the Social Security Administration of your spouse’s passing to claim the death benefit and see if your spousal/survivor benefits need to be adjusted.
  • Send a letter to all three credit bureaus to get copies of your spouse’s credit reports to make sure you’re aware of all existing debts.
  • File claims for any outstanding medical care benefits with your spouse’s health insurance provider.


Financial Advice for Divorce

Divorce can be emotionally draining and painful. While dealing with finances might be the last thing you want to do, it’s important to take steps to prepare and protect yourself:

  • Organize your financial records; make copies of documents and store them in a secure place that only you have access to.
  • Start putting money away for legal and other professional fees. You also need to cover your day-to-day living expenses, keeping in mind that the divorce process can take much longer and cost more than anticipated.
  • Open new accounts, preferably at institutions where you don’t have your joint accounts.
  • Get a copy of your credit report so you can monitor your credit and make sure joint debt is not being accrued on existing accounts.
  • Update your will, healthcare directives, and beneficiary information. You likely don’t want your soon-to-be ex to make medical decisions on your behalf or inherit your assets. You can revise your estate planning documents when your divorce is finalized.

These kinds of conversations can sometimes feel overwhelming or difficult but consider this: the time you invest now to understand your finances is actually a gift to your loved ones. Especially if you have daughters, it’s a great way to lead by example, as data tells us that caring for parents, which includes handling their finances, falls largely to daughters.4 Knowing your financial situation and effectively communicating your wishes and needs to your loved ones can only help them be more effective when the time comes for them to take care of you. This sharing of knowledge and open communication can greatly reduce your loved one’s level of stress in making caregiving decisions.

The time you invest – in yourself – will not only give you reassurance that you understand your finances now, but it can also help you make good decisions as your life changes in the future. Your advisor is ready to help you get to a place of knowledge and confidence!



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