There will come a time in many seniors’ lives when they’ll have to move on solo after losing their spouse. The aftermath of such a loss is difficult to deal with alone, but it’s more manageable with the support of loved ones. There are many life changes and decisions to navigate after losing a spouse. If you have a senior loved one with health concerns that make living alone impossible, there may be other considerations to manage as well.
Selling the House
Seniors with mobility concerns or cognitive decline may want to reevaluate their living arrangements. If they own a home, they can sell and profit from the equity, which could lead to retirement income for a more comfortable lifestyle and better medical care. Moving out might also be a better option than living alone in a large house that feels empty. Help them find a smaller living space, such as a co-housing situation with roommates or a retirement community. Your loved one will benefit from access to social interactions and will have a better chance of getting medical attention in case of an emergency.
Cashing Out Investments and Retirement Funds
Your loved one will need to make decisions on investments that were made as a couple and individual retirement funds left behind by their deceased spouse. As a solo decision maker, he or she can decide whether to keep the money in an investment vehicle or cash out the investments (if the minimum time has passed) to use as retirement income. If the deceased person had retirement accounts, the surviving spouse or the designated beneficiary may be entitled to the retirement benefits.
Life Insurance Payout
If his or her spouse had a life insurance policy, a death claim will need to be filed to collect the insured person’s death benefits. The payments can be collected as a lump sum, in installments, or through an annuity. In order to collect death benefits, the surviving spouse needs to contact the insurance company to file the claim and present a death certificate. This is also an opportunity to look into life insurance of their own. This will likely require a medical history and/or exam, so it’s best to take care of this before their health declines.
Investing in Health Care
The biggest investment seniors can make is in their own health, especially since medical needs and costs increase with age. Seniors are eligible for Medicare at age 65, but one-third of seniors enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan to expand their Medicare coverage. This expansion covers additional needs such as dental, vision, and prescription drugs. Learn about Medicare Advantage add-on plans so you can help your loved one make a decision for their comprehensive medical coverage.
Rewriting the Will
A joint will cannot be revoked or changed after the death of one spouse, so many estate-planning lawyers advise against creating one. Individual wills allow the surviving spouses to do what they want with their own money. Your loved one’s particular situation depends on what type of will was written while they were married. If the spouse was the primary beneficiary, your loved one may have to rewrite his or her will once they’ve been widowed. New beneficiaries would then be designated to receive the inheritance in the event of their passing.
Managing Mental Health
More important than finances, a senior must take steps to manage their emotions as they relate to these life changes. Depression is sadly common among the elderly, and it can lead to health issues that go beyond sadness. Depression can trigger weight loss or weight gain, affect sleep patterns, and spur recurrent headaches. Unchecked, depression can affect memory, which may perpetuate cognitive decline. Seniors who actively pursue healthy habits, such as eating well, seeing their doctor when needed, and eating a balanced diet can stave off the symptoms of depression, and thus its ill effects.
The best way you can help a senior loved one who has recently lost a spouse is to offer gentle and loving support without making them feel pressured to make any firm decisions until they’re ready. You’re there to research, provide accurate information, and be a sounding board for their most difficult choices. If you stand to gain something from their financial decisions, remain as objective as possible. Your role should be to help them decide the best plan for their future and for their loved ones.
After losing her husband Greg, Sara Bailey created TheWidow.net to support her fellow widows and widowers. She is also the author of the upcoming book ‘Hope and Help After Loss: A Guide For Newly Widowed Parents.’