Losing a spouse is a traumatic event. It drains your emotions and makes it hard to focus on simple daily tasks, let alone financial matters.

Unfortunately, financial obligations don’t stop for grief; there are bills to be paid and decisions to be made.

Taking an active role in understanding the key financial issues you could face before they happen can help you implement a plan that will bring more confidence and clarity to your life.


Your Journey to Financial Well-Being

The loss of a spouse can be financially derailing. This is especially true if the family’s financial obligations are managed by just one partner.

Suddenly, you could be met with an unfamiliar set of worries: Do I have enough income to maintain my lifestyle? Will I be able to stay in my house or will I need to sell it?

What do I do about my spouse’s retirement account? Can I collect on my spouse’s Social Security benefits?

These questions can be overwhelming and confusing. Rather than tackling them all at once, these important steps can help you begin your journey to financial well-being:



Gather information about all your financial documents.

Talk to your spouse about where the passwords and account numbers are; whom to contact at various banks; and where the will and other important documents are kept.

These may include bank and brokerage statements, retirement statements, credit card statements, loan information, property titles, business agreements, tax returns, and life insurance policies.



Prioritize your financial obligations.

If you have any joint accounts, begin retitling them, but consider keeping a joint checking account open for at least one year in the event you receive checks made payable to your spouse.

As bills come in, pay the most important obligations first. These typically include mortgage and car payments, taxes, utilities, and insurance premiums.

If you’re not sure how much cash you have available, consider making minimum payments on credit cards until you have a budget in place.


Honor a “Decision-Free Zone”

While some financial decisions require immediate attention, others can wait. Consider committing to a one-year “decision-free zone” where you avoid making any major, irrevocable decisions that involve large investments, gifts to family members or charities, and your home.

Instead, focus on paying the bills and running your household as you usually do. If you receive a large sum of money from an insurance policy, deposit it in the bank. This will give you the time you need to adjust to your new life and make more objective financial decisions.


Create a Plan and Stick to It

Determine your spending needs by tracking your household income and expenses for a few months. This will help you understand how much you will need to achieve your definition of financial security.


In the event of losing a spouse, regaining your financial balance isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do it alone.

It may be a good idea to surround yourself with a support team you can trust. An experienced team of advisers, including an accountant, estate attorney, and financial advisers, can help you make informed decisions and provide critical support when you need it most.


Steven Brettler is a financial adviser and branch manager with Morgan Stanley in Greenville, Del. He may be reached at (302) 573-4027 or advisor.morganstanley.com/steven.brettler.




1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information, July 2018.

2 John Hancock Insurance Long-Term Care Calculator. Based on five years of private room nursing home care during the years 2048 to 2052, and assuming a hypothetical 4.1% annual inflation rate.

3 Society of Actuaries (www.soa.org) Simple Life Expectancy Calculator (2017). Averages takes into account age and sex, using the 2012 Individual Annuitant Mortality table, with 1% mortality improvement.

4 EBRI Notes, Employee Benefit Research Institute, January 2017.


Article by Morgan Stanley and provided courtesy of Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor. Steven Brettler is a Financial Advisor in Greenville, DE at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“Morgan Stanley”). He can be reached by email at steven.brettler@ms.com or by telephone at 302-573-4027. His website is https://advisor.morganstanley.com/steven.brettler

This article has been prepared for informational purposes only. The information and data in the article has been obtained from sources outside of Morgan Stanley. Morgan Stanley makes no representations or guarantees as to the accuracy or completeness of the information or data from sources outside of Morgan Stanley. It does not provide individually tailored investment advice and has been prepared without regard to the individual financial circumstances and objectives of persons who receive it. The strategies and/or investments discussed in this article may not be suitable for all investors. Morgan Stanley recommends that investors independently evaluate particular investments and strategies, and encourages investors to seek the advice of a Financial Advisor. The appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives.

Insurance products are offered in conjunction with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC’s licensed insurance agency affiliates.

Steven Brettler may only transact business, follow-up with individualized responses, or render personalized investment advice for compensation, in states where he is registered or excluded or exempted from registration, https://advisor.morganstanley.com/steven.brettler

© 2018 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. Member SIPC.

CRC 2283635 10/2018

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