Widowed? What Happens Next?

A new widow
Newly widowed? It can feel as if you’re in the middle of a tsunami of decisions; take it slowly and accept help.

Becoming a widow or widower after decades of marriage is crushing enough, but then comes a tsunami of decisions about finances and tasks that demand attention, when you are least able to manage it. Even highly successful business owners can find themselves overwhelmed, says The New York Times in the article “You’re a Widow, Now What?”

Most couples tend to divide up tasks, where one handles investments and the other pays the bills.  However, moving from a team effort to a solo one is not easy. For one widow, the task was made even harder by the fact that her husband opted to keep his portfolio in paper certificates, which he kept in his desk. His widow had to hire a financial advisor and a bookkeeper, and it took nearly a year to determine the value of nearly 120 certificates. That was just one of many issues.

She had to settle the affairs of the estate, deal with insurance companies, banks and credit cards that had to be cancelled. Her husband was also a partner in a business, which added another layer of complexity.

She decided to approach the chaos, as if it were a business. She worked on it six to eight hours a day for many months, starting with organizing all the paperwork. That meant a filing system. A grief therapist advised the widow to get up, get dressed as if she was going to work and to make sure she ate regular meals. This often falls by the wayside, when the structure of a life is gone.

This widow opened a consulting business to advise other widows on handling the practical aspects of settling an estate and also wrote a book about it.

A spouse’s death is one of the most emotionally wrenching events in a person’s life. Statistically, women live longer than men, so they are more likely to lose a spouse and have to get their financial lives organized under duress. The loss of a key breadwinner’s income can be a big blow to a widow who has never lived on her own. The tasks come fast and furious, in a terribly emotional time.

You’ll likely be very vulnerable after the death of your long-time spouse. Hold off on any big decisions (like moving, quitting a job, selling the house) and attack your to-do list in stages. Some of a widow’s first tasks will be contacting the Social Security administration, calling the life insurance company, and paying important bills, like utilities and property insurance premiums. If your husband was working, contact his employer for any unpaid salary, accrued vacation days, group life insurance, and retirement plan benefits.

Next, contact an estate planning attorney to make sure your own estate plan is in order. Name your adult children, trusted family members, or friends as agents for your financial and health care power of attorney, and consider creating a revocable living trust. Update your beneficiaries on life insurance and annuity policies. If probate is needed for your spouse’s estate, the estate planning attorney can advise you (many handle probates) or refer you to another lawyer.

Deciding how to take the proceeds from any life insurance policies depends upon your immediate cash needs and whether you can earn more from the payout by investing the lump sum. Make this decision part of your overall financial strategy – ideally with a trusted financial advisor.

Determining a Social Security claiming strategy as a widow comes next. You may be able to increase your benefit, depending on your age and income level. If you wait until your full retirement, you can claim the full survivor benefit, which is 100% of the spouse’s benefit. If you claim it before that time, the amount will be permanently reduced. If you and your spouse are at least 70 at his death, you may benefit by switching to a survivor benefit if your benefit is smaller than his. Your financial advisor or the Social Security office can help you crunch the numbers.

It’ll be quite a while before you feel like you’re on solid ground. If you were working when your spouse died, consider continuing to work to keep yourself out and about in a familiar world. Anything you can do to maintain your old life, like staying in the family home, if finances permit, will help as you go through the grief process.

Reference: The New York Times (April 11, 2019) “You’re a Widow, Now What?”

Tom Petty’s Heirs Battle Over His Estate

Tom Petty's Wildflowers album
Tom Petty’s Wildflowers album is part of the estate dispute.

Rocker Tom Petty was wise enough to execute a revocable living trust before his unexpected death in 2017, but his heirs are now arguing over some of the wording in the trust.

Tom Petty’s widow and sole successor trustee of his trust, Dana York Petty, planned to include unreleased tracks from her late husband’s celebrated 1994 solo album, Wildflowers, as part of a 25th anniversary edition box set.

However, Tom’s daughters Adria and Annakim, his children from a previous marriage, have blocked the release, according to iHeartRadio’s article, “Tom Petty’s Widow, Daughters Battling Over His Estate.”

Dana says the daughters are interfering with her ability to manage Tom’s legacy. She’s reportedly requested that a judge name a day-to-day manager for the estate.

Adria argues that she and her sister were promised an equal share of control in their father’s estate, according to his will. She says her father’s “artistic property” was supposed to be placed into a separate company to be jointly administered by the three women. However, Dana disagrees with Adria’s interpretation of the term “equal representation.”

Annakim seems to reference the battle in a recent Instagram post. She displayed a photo of her father with the caption, “We don’t sell out. No Vampires 2019.”

A subsequent reply in the comments section mentions Petty’s will.

Wildflowers was initially designed to be a double album, with Petty completing more than 25 songs in the initial sessions. However, he was convinced by his record label to take some some songs off for the final version.

Throughout the years, a few of the extra songs were released on various collections. However, Tom never relinquished his idea of releasing the set as a double LP.

Petty was reportedly planning a Wildflowers tour, before his death in October of 2017, to showcase all the leftover material.

Reference: iHeartRadio (April 3, 2019) “Tom Petty’s Widow, Daughters Battling Over His Estate”

What Happens To Mom’s House When She Dies?

Mom's house in Florida
Will Mom’s house in Florida need to be sold? Who handles that?

So, what happens to Mom’s house in Florida when she dies?

It’s not uncommon for a parent to leave her home to her children. At the parent’s death, questions often arise concerning how long the children have before they must sell it or change the deed. What if one sibling wants to live in the home for a while, before it is sold? What happens if there’s a mortgage on the house?

nj.com’s article on this subject asks, “Mom died and left us her home. What do we have to do next?” According to the article, the executor (Personal Representative, in Florida) is tasked with gathering the assets, paying the debts and taxes (if any) and then distributing the assets, in accordance with the parent’s Will.

If the home was in the parent’s name alone, in most states, that makes the property a probate asset that’s passed according to the Will. In Florida, things get more complicated due to our Homestead laws, but the home will still be subject to the probate process. The Will usually gives the Personal Representative the discretion to sell the house and other property and then make the distributions.

There also may be a specific provision in the Will covering the home.

There’s generally no specific timeline as to when the property has to be transferred. However, the Personal Representative is required to act prudently and in a reasonably timely manner. In Florida, a vacant house that’s not monitored and maintained can lose value quickly due to our humidity, bugs, mold, and homeless trespassers.

In most situations, the Mom’s house will likely be sold. It’s the Personal Representative’s responsibility (after consulting with the probate attorney) to hire a real estate agent; arrange for estate sales, cleaning, and maintenance; and pay the bills associated with the home – including the mortgage, electricity, water – until a buyer is found. If Mom didn’t plan ahead and leave plenty of cash or liquid investments in her estate, the Personal Representative won’t be able to pay those bills, and her children will have to pay for those expenses – and the thousands of dollars in legal fees for the probate – out of their own pockets. Hopefully they can be reimbursed after the home is sold.

If one of the siblings wants to live there, and it’s agreeable to everyone, make sure that she doesn’t refuse to leave, when it comes time to sell. Keep in mind that landlord-tenant laws protect a tenant and may create an issue. The Personal Representative may want to talk with an attorney to determine what steps are necessary to protect against the tenant refusing to leave.

Reference: nj.com (April 1, 2019) “Mom died and left us her home. What do we have to do next?”