When the Unthinkable Happened – Phase 2

By Jackie Heater, Director of Operations


In my previous blog, “5 Tips I Wish I’d Known When the Unthinkable Happened,” I talked about the immediate things that need to be taken care of: funeral arrangements, bills, insurance, bank accounts, investment accounts and various other financial and estate matters.

However, as time moves on, I realize there are many things I’ve had to navigate, especially in the last few months, that I just took for granted because my husband took care of them.

Let’s talk about some tips for moving forward when your spouse dies.

Mowing the Lawn

We have a pretty good size lawn and luckily, we have a riding mower. I also have an 18-year-old grandson that lives with me and helps, but he’s leaving for college soon. And, while I don’t mind doing it, I prefer to have someone take care of it.

It seems like a little thing but this is one of those things you may have to think about.

Do you have kids or grandkids close to help? Can you afford to hire someone to get it done?

I don’t recommend making any major decisions right away after the passing of a loved one, but you may find it makes sense to move someplace where lawn and snow removal is done for you – it’s completely up to you.

Snow Removal

Again, my grandson helps me with this – but what am I going to do when he leaves for college?

My husband always had a blade on his lawnmower and would go around the neighborhood blading everyone’s sidewalk and driveway if they hadn’t already done it.

I have some great neighbors that told me not to worry about snow removal but I do have to think about a backup plan.

Maintenance Jobs and a Handyman

Since my husband passed away, I’ve had to: rehang a bathroom door, have an outlet plug replaced, have a new garbage disposal put in and have a plumber come to unclog a toilet.

These were all jobs my husband either did himself or just knew who to call if he needed to hire someone.

These events usually cannot be planned, so make sure you know who to contact if needed.

Car Repairs

This is something I have no patience for. Within a month of Bob’s passing, I had to replace two car batteries and have a lock repaired on my car door.

I would strongly recommend that you and your spouse or partner have a list of trusted plumbers, electricians, mechanics, handyman or any other trade professional you may use. Make sure you know their name and phone number so you can reach them when disaster strikes.

Even though it’s really not a disaster, it feels like it when you have to navigate the problem by yourself.

Managing Your Budget

Maybe you already paid the bills and managed your budget but your cash flow is going to change.

You may not spend as much money because it’s just you and you don’t need as many groceries, you don’t go to as many places or you don’t do as much laundry so it’s not taking as much as it used to for living expenses.

You may spend more money because depending on your circumstance, you may suddenly be able to travel, want or need new furniture or a new car.

Along with this, there may be an influx of additional money through life insurance or retirement plans. Your financial advisor can help you navigate through that and develop a new financial plan that is suited to your new life.

With this, you might feel a sense of guilt because suddenly you might be in better financial shape than you were before. I have personally felt some of that guilt, however, I also know Bob wanted to do his best to take care of me if something happened to him.

He would be happy that I’m not worrying about paying my bills or that I’m able to do things for and with our kids and grandkids. That’s what he would’ve wanted and why he purchased the life insurance he had.

Like I mentioned earlier, a financial advisor can help you with this.


Another thing that we tend to forget is your tax situation, you can file married and joint in the year following the year your spouse passed away but after that you are going to be in the single tax bracket which means your tax rate will go up.

Gertsema Wealth Advisors can give you some possible options with Roth Conversions or charitable donations while favorable tax treatment is available that could have an impact on your future cash flow and your estate.

Rethinking Retirement

If you are in retirement or getting close to retiring, suddenly you must rethink what retirement is going to look like for you.

You and your spouse may have been planning to buy a motorhome and travel or buy a lake home but now as a single person that isn’t your dream anymore.

Taking a trip with a tour group may be more appealing, or possibly taking your family on a trip.

Maybe you’ve spotted a dream home that is more suited to your new situation in life, whatever that new dream is Gertsema Wealth Advisors has the technology to review your financial plan in real-time to see how those what-ifs will affect your retirement cash flow.

Lastly, Updating Your Emergency Contact

Finally, I went to my doctor the other day; they were doing their usual information update.

When they asked me about my emergency contact it was like a smack in the face to realize that Bob was no longer my emergency contact.

Fortunately, my kids are close, but if your children aren’t close by you might want to think about a trusted family member or friend that at least knows how to reach the rest of the family in an emergency.

I heard this quote the other day from author Nicole Sobon: “Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go, but rather, learning to start over.”

It is true you do have to start over in a way. You will need help from family, friends and trusted professionals. There’s no one way to do this, but I hope a few tips for moving forward when your spouse dies can be helpful.

Investments are important but so is the advice and Gertsema Wealth Advisors can help work through all those new what-ifs in your financial plan to help you find your new normal.



For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with tax or legal advisor. Converting from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA is a taxable event.

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