Simple Steps to Ease the Stress of Life’s Most Stressful Event

By Maddy Dychtwald

Let’s face it: no one wants to talk about or think about death, especially the death of a loved one. In fact, death of a partner or spouse sits atop the Holmes and Rahe stress scale with a score of 100. However, avoiding a conversation about death—and the decisions that go along with it—can create even more grief. I hope this blog can bring to light and, subsequently, ease some of the stress of what’s been identified as life’s most stressful event for you.

This came into clear focus from the results of “Widowhood and Money: Resiliency, Responsibility, and Empowerment,” a landmark research study conducted by Age Wave in partnership with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. We dug deep into the journey of widowhood and into some of the financial steps that can make the transition into widowhood less stressful.

In our study, most widows (78%) said that becoming a widow was the single most difficult and overwhelming of all life experiences, and two-thirds said that while they were grieving the death of their loved one, they had so many things to do that they were not even sure where to start, creating more grief and anxiety. The combination of dealing with their own and their family’s loss while simultaneously handling financial and family details and decisions can be overwhelming.

While the emotional turmoil of losing a loved one can’t be avoided, financial worry can be eased with careful planning. Widows who have a few financial pieces of the puzzle in place are two times less likely to feel worried about finances. This finding motivated me and my husband, Ken, to take action. While it was an uncomfortable process to go through, we both felt so much better when it was completed, and we knew that this planning process was a kind of gift to each other and our loved ones.

We discovered firsthand that planning doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming. And we followed much of the advice that was put forth by widows in our study:

  • Know how to get access to your spouse/partner’s accounts and passwords, and keep this information updated regularly.
  • Have both names on all accounts, deeds, and legal documents, including wills and trusts.
  • Make sure both spouses/partners can access cash easily.
  • Keep credit card debt separate from each other.

Following these simple guidelines can create financial peace of mind after the death of a loved one, allowing you space to focus on your grief, your family, and working through the pain of your loss—rather than on money.