Widowing is an active verb

Widowing is an active verb

My mother’s life was like a drop of water on a hot skillet. She never stood still – always looking for the next great adventure to engage her time, energy and creativity. When our father died unexpectedly, “Ma” was sixty years old with lots of mileage ahead of her. What she didn’t have was a solid grounding in all that our dad had assumed as his responsibility (e.g. finances, taxes, investments, insurance). Gratefully, she learned from others and wrote a book called “Widowing: A Guide to Another Life”. So, what wisdom did she impart?

Over the course of 20 years, she faced the many challenges of being an older single adult; no longer invited to couple’s events, no extra set of hands moving the furniture or hauling the luggage. Through all these years she also observed her contemporaries who were going through the same sorrow associated with losing a spouse and fears about financial security. From them and her own experience, she drew lessons of confidently moving forward and put them in print.

Though she was from a generation that came through the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II, expectations for women remained low as the liberation movement would not begin to take root until the ‘70s and ‘80s. When a husband died, the financial management of the household often fell on the shoulders of women less prepared or experienced in matters of investing, retirement security, disposition of property and taxes. Today, those deficits are not limited to just widows. The knowledge gap for far too many adults remains wide in matters of budgeting, retirement planning and end of life decision-making.

Though 25 years have passed since penning “Widowing”, this bold-face statement in her book remains a constant, “No matter how inadequate you may feel with professionals, there is one point you must never forget! Never! No else on God’s Green Earth is as concerned with your affairs as you are! No one!

“Let all professionals – your doctors, lawyer, accountant, contractors and brokers – know that you hold them accountable and that you check on their work, charges and reputation. They should be in the same category in your mind [as other skilled service providers] because you are buying their services and you expect your money’s worth. Don’t be afraid to change advisors if you feel more comfortable elsewhere.

“The delivery of these services is one area where you cannot afford to be meek or deferential. So be in charge, learn a few impressive phrases to hint at your knowledge, and know when and where to seek help.”

She also was a fan of using a Certified Financial Planner who charged only an hourly fee as there was no financial incentive to do anything but furnish advice. That objectivity can allow you to make informed choices when investing your assets through other professionals. In the same sense, though, you may find that paying a percentage of your total managed assets for a clear set of objectives may be worth the roughly one percent annual fee frequently charged by financial advisors.

Another challenge not as prominent when “Widowing” went to press in 1997 is the cost and duration of long term care (LTC). This, too, is a decision that requires a trusting relationship with a skilled insurance provider. Kerry Peabody at Clark Insurance notes that the cost of long term care insurance continues to rise while fewer carriers are offering it. He also admonishes prospective buyers that it is best to buy when you’re healthy and not wait until you are considered too high risk or ill.

Assistance with such daily routines of bathing and dressing can range from a few hours per day to years of 24/7 attention. Peabody says that annual costs are anywhere from $26,000 for adult dare care to about $50,000 per year for typical home based assistance. If nursing home care is required, you should budget at least $100,000 or more per year. If you can’t afford to pay those costs from your savings, an insurance plan should be investigated. The good news is that you can buy what you think you can afford.

The greatest challenge for our region of the country is balancing the financial needs of our aging neighbors with the ability of our youngsters to pay the costs. Though everyone has known the numbers for years, the failure to act will soon bring with it consequences for living with dignity through the end of lives.

Carpe diem! Seize the day! Before you lose a spouse or get surprised by a degenerative or chronic condition, it makes sense to get your planning in place because, as my mother wrote, “No else on God’s Green Earth is as concerned with your affairs as you are! No one!”

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