Widows: Who Says They Are Old?

Widow, young, sad and pensiveOn widows and money … Click to listen:

Who Says Widows Are Old?

Widows are old women, about the age of our grandmothers, right?  Well, not exactly.  Here’s what I found on a blog today:

“I just read that the average age for a widow is 56. Seems rather young to me…”
“I got inducted at 40 …”
“Well I am 58.”
“I am 51 and hubby was 57…”
“I might be the exception. I’m 33, hubby passed at 34.”
“I was 52, my husband was 53.”

The truth is that today around 90 percent of women outlive their spouses and the average age of a widow in the U.S. is 56.

Why is this important?  Because too many women who are uncomfortable with money hide behind excuses like “Oh, money is a man’s job” or “I’m just not good at money so I leave that to my partner.”  And they’re totally ignorant about their finances.

That’s a recipe for disaster.  For total vulnerability.

Realize that nothing could leave you less prepared to deal with the double whammy of a serious life event such as the death of a mate.  You’d be facing not only the massive grief, disorientation, and loneliness of such a loss, but would also be totally unprepared when it comes to your finances.

You say it couldn’t happen to you?  Well, more than 14 percent of women between 20 and 64 are widows.  So maybe you need to think again.

Nobody wants to think about the unpleasantness of death, whether their own or someone else’s.  But, to my knowledge, none of us is going to come out of this life alive.  So maybe a little time and energy invested in being more of a financial partner with your mate might be a good strategy.

[As a side note, this works in the opposite direction as well, if the woman has taken total control of finances and has left her partner in a vulnerable position.  Lack of knowledge is lack of knowledge; it knows no gender.]

So here are the first conversations and actions to have together:

1.    Find out what each one wants.  What do each of you have as financial goals and how do you define wealth or financial freedom?  What’s important in terms of lifestyle?  What are your hopes and dreams?

2.    Find common ground.  Once everything is on the table (you might be surprised what you hear!), figure out how to come to some common vision so you’re not working at cross purposes.  You won’t have identical goals; after all, you’re two distinct individuals.

3.    Get clear on where you are today.  Find out what has been done already in terms of planning (or not!) by the other party.  Get real clear on where you stand financially as a couple and try to understand exactly what you both have in terms of debts, assets, investments … all the things you’ve probably been hiding from.

4.    Put a plan together.  If one of you is better than the other at putting together a spending plan, fine.  But don’t prepare one in a vacuum.  Talk about it.  Make joint decisions, knowing that some of them will be tough.  It’s okay; you’ll survive whatever they are.

5.    Share the bill-paying function.  Don’t let bill-paying be a lonely function.  Share the responsibility, either alternating or doing it jointly.  This not only keeps the dialog open, and allows you to adjust as circumstances change, but also helps you both stay accountable.

6.    And have the toughest conversation.  As much as you’d like to avoid it, talk about death, about each other’s last wishes.  About what will happen to the children, if there are any.  See an accountant, financial advisor, lawyer and any other counselor to be sure you have all your critical papers in order: wills, trusts, and so forth.  And know where everything is.

Your relationship is a partnership, in every possible way.  Not having an open dialog about money allows part of that partnership to wither.  To cut one person out of the money dialog is disrespectful and disempowering, and you both deserve to have a voice in it.

Besides, when one of you dies, do you really want to leave the other vulnerable at an already difficult time?  Or would it be better to be fully prepared and empowered so at least one part of that painful period can be a smooth transition?

No excuses.  No “we’ll do it next year.”  It’s never too soon.  You’re never too young.

So go ahead, do it now.  (And leave me a comment below on when you’ll have that done …)


Bio:  Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. But yet she did! Since then, Sharon has interviewed countless women and done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers will be shared in her upcoming book “Money After Menopause.” Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” coaching programs.  She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve.

  • What a handy outline for communication, Sharon! I was only 17-years old when my father passed away but I am very grateful to this day that he and my mom took time to share some of these very things before he passed away. My mom was widowed in her forties and suddenly left to raise 4 teenagers on her own… you are so very right, dealing with with all of that was quite enough… having her finances all in order, I’m sure, must have helped to reduce the stress!

    • How lucky, Sue, that at least that part was less of a burden for your mother.  I remember reading your family story and thinking how difficult it had to be for her.  If this article makes it easier for just one woman, it will have done its job …

  • Connie

    Sharon, thank you for this post. I am speaking tomorrow to a group who are at or near retirement. I hope it’s ok if I share this information with them.

    • Anonymous

      Absolutely, Connie!  And if you’d like to share my website’s URL with them, that could be useful for us all!

  • Anonymous

    This is the type of information that we need yet never seek on our own. Thanks for bringing it to our attention and presenting it so well…you are a blessing! 🙂

  • I wish someone had read me this article when I was 18 years old and newly married. I became a widow at the age of 20. Yes, my high school sweetheart and new husband died at the ripe young age of 22. Disease knows no age and neither does finances. Thankfully we did have medical insurance and life insurance. However, neither was sufficient and left me not only a grieving young widow, but a clueless, financially destitute young woman. Thank you for sharing this vital information Sharon. I hope everyone pays attention and takes action…you never know when it will be your turn.

    • I know you dealt with this far earlier than you ever would have expected to, Carla.  I, on my side, lost both my parents within a year of each other, in my very early twenties.  So I know about the unpredictability of life.  We all would be well served to be prepared … and then be thrilled when loss only happens in the twilight years …

  • james samy

    Thank you Sharon. I learned new things about widows and the 6 conversation & action use.

    • James, those conversations should be had between any two people who care for each other, recognizing that no one lasts forever.  And taking care of our loved ones is Job #1 … right after being sure we’re okay ourselves.

  • Mail Rachelle

    Thanks Sharon, for getting us talking about things financial we sometimes don’t ‘get around’ to talking about.

    • Rachelle, I figure it’s MY treat to get to tweak people into doing what’s best for them.  I couldn’t ask for anything better!

  • Hi Sharon, great advise for women. I think it is important to have healthy relationships with money and hubby at the same time! loved the audio 🙂

    • Glad you like the audio, Solvita!  They’re really fun to make … and are a nice change of pace for the reader …

  • Great article. My husband and I are actively putting all these steps into practice as we work to change our family’s financial legacy from life-long poverty to generations of prosperity.  What I’d love to hear you speak on is how to get a discussion going with the elder members of our family–the ones who haven’t had a practice of talking these topics through.  I’m facing this with my 76 year old, very independent (still working) mother.  The advice I’ve heard (everything from set limits to scare-them-with-the truth etc.) all seems so impossible!  Anyhooo…my 2 cents 😉

    • Boy, Elise, as hard as it can be to get a conversation going within a “partnership,” it’s ten times as difficult if the channels aren’t open with an older family member.  So many additional factors (privacy, respect, shame, emotional baggage) are right below the surface, just waiting to pop out.  But I promise to take it on!  BTW, I love what you and your husband are proactively doing to rewrite your entire financial reality.  Takes courage, but the rewards will come back a hundred-fold!

  • Lizabet

    I’ve printed your article and it will be dinner time conversation this evening.  Thanks for sharing these important insights.

    A topic that I would like to see you cover (if you haven’t already) is setting boundaries with other family members who need resources and frequently turn to you.


    • Hope the dinner conversation was productive, Lizabet!  As for your boundaries topic, I’ll gladly put it in the hopper for upcoming posts and do it soon.  Thanks for the suggestion; it really helps to know what you, as my reader, want me to tackle!

  • Such great advice.  We have friends who have already lost a partner.  It is hard for the one remaining to pick up the pieces of their lives so it is good to have everything talked about, organized and easily in place for sure. 

    • Pat, it’s something no one wants to talk about.  But it really is the sign of a solid relationship: the ability to look every aspect in the face and get on with the joy of living, knowing all’s been organized.

  • Tamarah

    Simple Advice…so beneficial.  I gotta start moving on some of these steps! 

    • Start with little steps, Tamarah.  You’ll find them so empowering you’ll WANT to take more.  😉

  • Sharon, this is a great post.  The “average widow’s” age is truly startling to me.   

    • Anonymous

      Vickie, when I see the market you serve, I know you appreciate the impact “not knowing” has on women!  And, yes, I was startled by the average too.  I surpassed it ages ago!

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  • Anonymous

    My late mother-in-law became a widow at the age of 49… I never knew my father-in-law ~ he passed away well before I appeared on the family scene. He did not make it to his 57th birthday and for Mum to draw a state pension he should have lived for another four months.

    But Life dictated otherwise.

    With no pension, no help, nothing to fall back on, a son in the Forces and a 10-year old daughter left to bring up, Mum continued to work wherever she could, took up 2 jobs and ultimately managed to put my sister-in-law through university and into a successful career while at the same time save sufficient money to have an annual bus trip abroad with fellow widows and widowers AND buy her own property, the house she had rented for a large part of her life. Mum was a wonderful homemaker and provider who knew very well how to handle money responsibly and successfully despite coming from what is termed the low-income category of society. She was a very wise woman who had the foresight to pass on her money-handling skills to both her daughter and son, my husband.

    I count myself blessed to have a partner who understands the importance of shared financial responsibility and does not deem it to be a subject beneath the comprehension of “mere” females, as so many men unfortunately do.

    Preparation is the key to most things in life!

    Thanks Sharon, for all of your valuable input!
    As always top class …

    Smiles, Emm :))

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  • Carmen M Perez ELO

    So sad but I have to admit I believe it. So important to have the tough conversation. Xx

    • What it comes down to, Carmen, is that if we’re on our own, we’re
      personally responsible for our finances. If we’re with someone, we’re
      still personally responsible for our finances. The difference is that we
      share ideas, decisions and tasks … but we never give up being
      personally responsible for our finances. No one does. 😉

  • Lynn O’Connell

    I have several Facebook friends who have been widowed in the past few months. Watching as they discover what insurance doesn’t cover and wrestle with financial disaster on top of losing their partners is almost too much to stand. I can’t imagine living it.

    Fortunately, my husband and I are business partners and equally involved with the money side of things. But, when his father had a catastrophic stroke, it was simply staggering to see how unprepared his mother was. She didn’t know if she owned the house, where the money was, or anything really. Worse, we didn’t find out until years later that he had substantial assets in another country… assets we can’t claim now because he ended up in a nursing home on Medicaid for four years. (And that happened because he didn’t have a living will or a medical directive that would have allowed the family to refuse pointless medical treatment.) Lack of planning can be tragic on so many levels.

    • Lynn, I don’t know what percentage of women are engaged and in control of their finances, much less women who are in relationships. But I’m sure the second one is far worse than the first. As I researched this article on widowhood, I was appalled at the devastation … emotional and financial … that so many face. The consciousness-raising I can do is a drop in the bucket. That’s why I’m so appreciative of people like you who share my articles with your readers!

  • My mum became a widow at the age of 35 and from one day to the other had to take care of everything: two young children, a newly moved in house and dealing with the financial side of everything. I am happy for her she had good advice, coaching and help from our family.
    I am used to taking care of myself and my financial situation, even when married.
    I love the sound advice you give, Sharon, it is so needed by all of us.