On the worst day of your life, if you are like most women, your brain will shut down to protect you from the worst of the shock.  You will feel like you cannot think and cannot remember things and it will be difficult to make decisions.  Please understand that this is normal and temporary.  Be very kind and patient with yourself.  If you have friends or family who have been widowed, connect with them.  Only someone who has been there can really understand what you are going through.  Commit to handling what needs to be done at your speed, one step at a time.

Your first step is to plan the funeral.  Half of all Americans have never arranged a funeral and are not sure what to expect. A traditional funeral costs about $6,000 without the “extras” like flowers, obituary notices, acknowledgment cards, etc..  Many funerals run well over $10,000.

Because you (and perhaps your children) will be making costly decisions while you are in shock and grief and under time pressures, take a supportive friend along who can help you keep things in perspective.  Try to read the Guide to Funerals from the Federal Trade Commission beforehand, if you have a chance.  If you do not have a lot of money, like most people, remember that your husband would have been more concerned about taking care of you financially than in having a fancy funeral.

Your second step is to see an Attorney.  Bring your husband’s Will and other legal documents to an attorney.  Most people do not realize that the Will needs to be filed even if there will not be a probate.    The attorney will guide you through the legal maze.  Be sure that s/he handles the re-titling of your residence and gives you recommendations about your own estate planning, if possible.  You may need to change your Will and beneficiary designations.  In some cases, this can wait.  Call my office at (414) 529-5599 and ask Dawn to send you the “Survivor’s Guide: A tool to help you settle your loved one’s estate” and the “Survivor’s Notebook: An estate planning guide for your family”.

Your third step is to take time to heal and to protect your finances.  The main thing to remember is that NOW is not the time to make big financial decisions.  Give yourself a ‘recovery period’ to get over the initial fog of grief.  During this period, do not make financial decisions.  Avoid people who are trying to push you into buying something – this is a big red flag.    And do not give or lend money to children or relatives.  When you are feeling a little stronger and clearer-headed, find someone who will give you unbiased financial advice – and financial education if you need it.

Finally, understand that grief is a marathon.  For some, the worst is over in six months.  For others, it takes a year or two.  The more you work on your grief, the more quickly you will begin to come back to life.  You can work on your grief with girlfriends who have been there, grief support groups, pastoral care people, counselors and life coaches.  All of these people understand the tremendous internal upheaval that has taken place in your life and know what it will take to move forward.  They also know, as I know, that one day you will get to the other side of this and you will once again feel happy and hopeful.

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