By Viki Hamilton and Suzanne Breitwieser-Stopa
Regardless of how it happens, it can be shocking for any woman to experience the transition into becoming suddenly single. And for many women, divorce or widowhood presents many challenges, both emotionally and financially.
At Security Financial Management, our goal is to help women navigate their new season of life. Here are just a couple examples of how we’ve helped women in transition.
Case Study #1: Divorce After 32 Years Of Marriage
By Suzanne Breitwieser-Stopa
Imagine this scenario that happened to one of my clients. She received the devastating news that, after more than 30 years of marriage, her spouse was leaving her for someone she knew. She thought things couldn’t get worse. But then she learned that her ex-husband cleaned out her bank accounts, liquidated his retirement accounts of more than $500,000, and left her with nothing. Suddenly she realized why last year’s tax bill was larger than normal and why her ex insisted she not attend his meetings with their CPA.
To make matters worse, there were no warning signs. Everything seemed normal, the kids were grown and out of the house, and she had just a few more years until retirement. And since his retirement savings represented the bulk of the family’s assets, she had never contributed to her own retirement plan. Her financial outlook looked bleak: no savings, no retirement, and fighting for every dime at the age of 55. Needless to say, this was not how she expected life to turn out.
She decided to take matters into her own hands and hired an attorney and forensic CPA to try to uncover the trail of missing money. After everything was settled, she was left with no home, renting her residence, with a spousal monthly payment for eight years and a payoff over two years for some of the money that went missing.
As both a financial advisor and a woman who has gone through a divorce after a long-term marriage, I’m here to tell you that even in situations like this one, there is hope and there are steps you can take to restart your journey.
The Emotional Challenge
First, it’s important to address the emotional aspect of your divorce, working through the fact that you are now single and no longer part of a couple. This will be painful and will take time as you learn to make decisions on your own and picture your future without your spouse.
This step is necessary because finances are emotional. Your actions and decisions, no matter how rational or irrational they are, are intricately linked to your emotions. Recognize how your different emotions affect your decisions, and then be wise about the emotional state you are in when you make decisions. If you need to hold off on making a decision until the emotional roller coaster slows down, do it.
We walk with you through this process, helping you adjust to a new journey and guiding you through creating new short-term and long-term goals, like purchasing a car or home or going on a trip. We strive to empower you to define your new wants, wishes, and goals and make a plan to get there. For many, this can be overwhelming, but divorce is not the nail in the coffin of your life.
The Financial Plan: The Holy Grail
With the financial devastation involved in this particular situation, working on this client’s financial plan was a crucial step. We had to work as a team to build a realistic retirement goal and establish not only a new budget but also a worst-case-scenario budget.
Since she was receiving temporary additional payments each month (the bulk of which stopped after two years), we needed to dissect what she really needed to live on using her base salary only. We examined how we could increase her savings and create an emergency fund.
The worst-case-scenario budget helped us see the situation she’d be in if the payments from her ex stopped. Both budgets required that we look at all her bills and make some hard decisions, such as not buying a home right away and finding options to reduce her rent.
We then used the payout money she was receiving, along with extra alimony funds, and invested them in a long-term growth strategy. This financial plan showed my client how the account could grow over the next seven to ten years. She was able to get a projection of what her financial life could look like over time and set some goals regarding buying a home and traveling. We also looked at strategies to maximize her Social Security benefit and other investment options that might improve her financial outlook.
Leaving no stone unturned, we also worked on an estate plan. With her spouse out of the picture, she needed to choose a new power of attorney and decide how she wanted to pass down her assets to her children and potential grandchildren. This step included partnering with an estate attorney to establish a trust. We then analyzed long-term care scenarios, discussing who will take care of her as she ages if she does not remarry.
Through each detail, my goal was to make sure every aspect of my client’s financial life was addressed and she felt confidence in the plan. With minor changes and some education on financial matters, we were able to help her find the long-term peace of mind she desired. We continue to meet every six months to review her situation and ensure she’s still on track.
Case Study #2: Preparing For Widowhood
By Viki Hamilton
In 2010, Jane and Ivan began working with us to create a financial plan. During our regular reviews, we often touched on the idea that one of them would outlive the other and made plans in anticipation of this. Unfortunately, that situation became a reality much sooner than we expected. Two years ago, Ivan was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
With sadness, we began planning Jane’s life without Ivan. Besides grappling with the emotional impact of living without him, Jane needed assurance she would be financially secure. The only silver lining in this situation is that we were able to plan while Ivan was still here to help.
We addressed practicalities first, such as how Jane could get help with the tasks Ivan typically handled, such as vehicle maintenance, yard care, and home upkeep. We included their adult son in the conversation, and he helped as much as he could with his demanding work schedule and family of his own.
Because of the timely nature of this situation, Jane, Ivan, and I met more frequently to review and re-review the financials to give Jane peace of mind. Our discussions involved looking at various scenarios, such as Jane continuing to work, taking extra time off when Ivan passes away, or relocating to be closer to family members.
Even with all our pre-planning, it was not until Ivan passed away that Jane gained true clarity of what she wanted to do. She liked the familiarity of returning to work and being around her coworkers, and she took an extended vacation to spend time with her family members that live out of state. She also discovered she enjoyed being in the home she and Ivan had built together over the last 40 years, feeling peaceful there even though Ivan was absent. She is still adjusting to life as a single person and learning how to think of herself as a widow.
What Widows Need
Widowhood impacts women in several ways. According to a study byNew York Life, “nearly 70% of all women report ‘significant life changes’ after the loss of a spouse, and financial concerns were at the top of the list.” Not only do women tend to outlive men, but men also tend to marry younger women, making widowhood a highly likely reality for many women in their later years. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 39.9% of women age 65 and older are widowed, compared to just 12.7% of men. Among women age 75 and older, 56.9% are widowed, compared to 21.2% of men.
As I have worked with many widows over my career, I have found that their underlying desires are to have financial security, to avoid becoming a burden to their family, and to not feel rushed to make financial decisions. Planning takes care of all these things.
Are You A Woman In Transition?
We don’t want you to find yourself in the situation of our first case study. By taking initiative now, you can create a plan that sets you up for success, no matter what unexpected circumstances come your way.
If you or someone you know has become suddenly single, encourage them to take their time and understand their options to avoid making irreversible financial mistakes. At Security Financial Management, we seek to learn about you and what’s important to you, walking alongside you through life’s transitions. To learn more about how we can help as your financial advocate, schedule a call today!
About Security Financial Management
Security Financial Management is an independent financial services firm dedicated to delivering exceptional service built on reliability and trust. With 3 locations in Central Florida and 1 in Rochester, MN, SFM has been partnering with clients for over 25 years, providing comprehensive financial planning and acting as a personal CFO. To learn more about Security Financial Management, connect with them on LinkedIn.
Advisory services offered through Investment Advisors, a division of ProEquities, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Securities offered through ProEquities, Inc., a Registered Broker-Dealer, Member, FINRA & SIPC.
Security Financial Management is independent of ProEquities, Inc.