When women outlive their spouses

// by Kara Pound

Death is never an easy conversation. Whether it’s a sudden accident or expected passing, talking about what should or needs to come next is a tough discussion. That’s why—especially when it pertains to the loss of a spouse—being open and honest is important.

According to Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), a non-profit founded in the late 1970s for families and friends providing long-term care to loved ones at home, women tend to outlive their spouses and have less access to retirement savings such as pensions.

In short, women are particularly vulnerable due to a lack of counseling in finances, self-care, legal documents, medical needs and more after a spouse passes away. In fact, FCA reports that almost half of women age 75 and older live alone and that number continues to rise.

Many experts also agree that a couple’s children should help with planning in every way that they can—no matter how difficult the conversation.

“I encourage everyone, adult children included, to prepare a living will, health care surrogate and durable power of attorney,” says Helen Balz Brown, client relations manager for Home Instead Senior Care Northeast Florida, an in-home senior care service. “I also urge families to become educated about the differences between Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and private pay.”

Brown, and others at similar service providers, assists families by exploring options and solving issues with aging lifestyles. This includes arranging a care plan to meet their family’s particular situation or referring to other resources.

“Most seniors want to remain in their own homes for as long as possible, as independently as possible,” says Brown. “One way to facilitate this is to make environmental adaptations necessary including grab bars, accessible showers, door widening, ramps and good lighting.”

Aside from home care needs, finances are also an issue when it comes to preparing for a spouse’s death.

“Remember, this is a very emotional time and dealing with finances can be a difficult topic,” says Ameriprise Jacksonville senior financial advisor Sandy Misenheimer. “Try to get a handle on the retirement income and create a list of assets and liabilities. If mom has a relationship with a financial advisor or estate attorney, reach out to that person.”

Misenheimer advises that parents should get involved in creating a financial plan while they’re able to communicate their wishes.

“While this isn’t always possible, any preparations you can do before the situation is critical and can help you feel better about their financial affairs,” Misenheimer explains. “Many family members may want to be involved in decisions affecting the individual, but you should consider choosing one person as the financial contact.”

This person, granted the responsibility often referred to as the power of attorney, is given authority to act on behalf of the parent for all legal and financial matters.

“Demonstrate how your parents can protect themselves against fraud,” Misenheimer says. “Try to find some time to lay out a caregiving and financial plan of action while your parents are still able. Consulting with a financial advisor or an attorney familiar with elder law issues may help get the discussion started.”

Of course, nobody wants to bring up a worst-case scenario during family dinner, but it can be a great source of peace to all involved. Be empathetic, understanding and bring knowledge to the table. There are resources available including Legal Aid, hospice organizations and certified aging-in-place specialists.

“The most important thing any family can do to protect themselves for the future, in my opinion, is not necessarily life insurance, but long term care insurance,” says Brown. “Many seniors either deny or refuse to acknowledge the need for home care. One approach can be for children to say, ‘We know how much you value your independence and your desire to remain at home for as long as possible.’”