Early in bereavement, you may be bombarded with unwanted financial decisions

Figuring out and managing finances when bereaved is a very tricky and a many-headed problem for most people, one way or another.

There are many ways this is so, with many twists and turns. It's one of those very practical matters that requires attention, even in the relatively early days before one can get their bearings in their new and very sad situation.

Death brings an awful mix of grief and practical matters to handle. Inevitably the death of a spouse, partner or parent brings many changes and one is usually financial. Finances are not only practical but critical, not only in the immediate time frame but over the long term.

There may be several kinds of financial problems - changes in income, access to cash, pressing bills and others, including a whole set of responsibilities that are magnified if you are the executor or if there is no will. And all this may vary depending on the inheritance laws of the state in which you live, or even on bank regulations.

If everything is neat and tidy, one is lucky. But for many, it is not. For instance, it's too late to say there should have been a will, or the house should have been put in a trust so probate would not be necessary. Or that there should have been life insurance for the survivors. After the funeral week, all this is bound to surface.

As the months and years roll on, even routine matters such as car maintenance can become a big deal. It's enough to try to deal with all the hurt and pain, without having to deal with all the practical matters. Quite an awful mix.

The cost of car repair and maintenance and house or condo repair are become financial drains for many, and there is basically no end. A personal example is that recently I had some major car maintenance expenses. If you have a car, it's inevitable. I had procrastinated as long as possible but finally had to do it - four new brake pads, four new tires, fix a leak in the engine oil casing, fix a rattle in the front end exhaust pipe. A lot. Yet there's only 72,000 miles on my SUV so it's worth it. But we must plan for these expenses.

A house or condo are always in need of something - a new water heater, a new washer or dryer, carpet cleaning, a plumbing leak, the garbage disposal, on and on. Home maintenance is one reason for the downsizing boom … but that also has its advantages and disadvantages.

It's the seemingly smaller things that can be peskiest. Window replacements, yard work, snow removal, carpet cleaning. Then there's the need for reliable service helpers. Does any of this sound familiar. Probably. So what to do?

First, it doesn't help to look back; "should have, could have," doesn't help. We must look forward.

Here are some ideas:

• As soon as you're emotionally able, look over your total finances to get the big picture. Consider both your income/assets and your expenses. I waited three years to do that and wasted a lot by waiting that long.

• One's former lifestyle may have a lot of monthly or annual expenses that just aren't needed anymore. Some examples: Holding on to club or other memberships you aren't using, second cars you don't need, donating to activities you don't attend now, subscriptions you don't need now, all money over the dam.

• Taxes: Consult an accountant about any changes in tax status for which you need to prepare. There may be some surprises.

• Check into pensions, annuities, life insurance and Social Security to be sure you understand any changes affecting you, or paperwork needed.

• If needed, be sure your current spending and income are in balance, so you don't deplete your savings or nest egg. We all need some backup resources for "unexpected" expenses.

• Figure out your predictable, "expected," annual expenses regarding car and home insurances, taxes, dental and medical expenses; seasonal yard, home and car maintenance costs; travel, holidays, etc., and put money aside so you have it when needed.

I'm sure there are many other ideas, but these have helped me.

So the point is: Not only do we have to figure out how to cope with and manage our grief at the death of a beloved partner or parent, we need to deal with all these practical financial matters. And they are many. If you can get someone to help you figure this out, that's a blessing.

Otherwise, as soon as able, try to get an understanding of the big picture and then take needed action. Not too quickly so as to avoid regrets, but sooner rather than later. It's hard. I waited three years, which was too long.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.