Collin County Moms Financial Health Series :: 4 Pieces of Financial Advice from a Widow

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It was the way he made me laugh that won me over. He could easily flash a smile so genuine, so inviting, it would put total strangers at ease. He was the life of the party. Always goofing off. A fun-loving jokester.

So, it was natural to think my husband was playing a trick on me when, on the icy cold night of December 7, 2005, I was jolted awake by what I thought were the sounds of him snoring. When the usual nudges to get him to stop failed, I assumed he was joking around and told him to cut it out. He didn’t respond.

“Kevin, this isn’t funny! If you don’t answer me, I’m going to call 911!”

He didn’t answer.

Life in the ‘Burbs

When Kevin and I got married, it was a package deal. Our (totally cute!) love story began long distance and ended with my three-year-old daughter and I moving across the country to start a new life in the Dallas area. The three of us quickly and easily embarked on the stereotypical path to a suburban family. I transitioned to being a stay-at-home mom after our son was born. We adjusted to living on one income while raising our family, fixing up and furnishing the house, and purchasing an SUV to fit our growing brood.

With the unexpected arrival of kid #3, things got real. That same year, Kevin landed a VP position with his company that was going to accomplish our two biggest goals at the time: 1) Move us back to the East Coast, and 2) Achieve the salary level of living “comfortably” enough that we’d have the “extra” in the budget we needed to start the kids’ college funds and get life insurance.

We set up a meeting with a good friend and financial advisor to move us forward and decided on a $500K life insurance policy that would mean, as Kevin put it, “You won’t have to work, and the kids’ college will be taken care of if anything ever happens to me.”

A few weeks later, my life changed forever…

It was just 20 minutes after we’d gone to bed. He was 37. Perfectly healthy. An avid backpacker. Active. Full of life. There was no indication this was coming. Yet in one terrifying instant, I became a widow and a single mom of three young kids left with no answers, no life insurance, and a box full of ashes.

The night my husband died, our friend who had helped us put together our life insurance policy was one of the first people to arrive at my house to help prepare for an unimaginable future. He came out of Kevin’s office with the life insurance paperwork in his hands and tears in his eyes.

“You didn’t sign it?”

We were waiting for his promotion paperwork to go through. And it did, the day after Kevin died. I still have the unopened package.

4 Pieces of Financial Advice for Couples

Share Everything

Share all the passwords. Know the location of all the essential paperwork (preferably in a fireproof safe). There’s nothing more agonizing than needing to ask your spouse where to find something, or what the account number is, or how to access something when they. just. can’t. help. you.

Have Joint Account Access

When we got married, we merged everything into one bank (we love USAA!), but somehow I was only an authorized user, which, as it turns out, is different from a joint account holder. I have no idea how this happened. Did we even know to ask? Who informs us about these things?

Because we weren’t joint users of our joint account, I couldn’t access any bank accounts after he died. To get access, I needed a copy of his death certificate. But because he died at home, it would be months before I’d get documentation of Kevin’s death, which means it would be months before I’d be able to access our accounts.

Make a Will

Dying without a will causes a big mess for the loved ones you leave behind. It involves lawyers, probate, and piles of paperwork that no one feels like dealing with when they’re in the midst of a traumatic loss. I didn’t want to deal with all that paperwork. I wanted to grieve the loss of my husband.

Get Life Insurance.

Trust me. You can’t afford NOT to.

So how did we get through?

Well, that’s a whole other story for another time…but, in short, it takes a village. We’ve been blessed beyond belief with the benevolence of friends, coworkers, and neighbors. In the rebuilding process, I’ve become an expert at budgeting and developed the “know-how” to make good with what I have. My kids have never lacked a thing.

Now safely on the “other side” of my worst nightmare coming true, I never pass up an opportunity to share financial advice for widows, and what I learned with others so no one has to go through what I did. After all, sharing our experiences—even our biggest mistakes and failures—is more than just a way to teach through lessons learned, it’s also the only true way to build connections and community with our collective strength, and most important of all…hope.

Alisa’s 15 minutes of fame was as a news reporter just after college. These days, she embraces multiple roles – a mom of three (two teenagers and one who is #adulting), a graduate student at UT Dallas Jindal School of Management, and a freelance writer, editor, and tutor. When she’s not hiding out in the library, you can find her next to a chiminea fire on her back patio. She loves indie movies, eclectic music, random road trips, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, her kids, and her cat Jack Jack (although not necessarily in that order). She grew up as a military brat, residing in four countries and eleven states before settling in the Dallas area. After 20 years here, and with the help of her Aggie daughter, she can seamlessly use “y’all” and “howdy” in a sentence like a true native Texan.

41 COMMENTS

  1. My heart broke as I read her story! This could seriously happen to ANY ONE of us! I applaud her strength and her sharing her story so others can learn from her!

  2. This is one of my biggest fears and I felt so much emotion in this blog post. Alisa you are so amazing. My husband and just created a free will a few months ago.

    • Thank you for the sweet encouragement, Aly! I’m so glad to hear that you and your husband are on a good track 🙂

  3. So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing such valuable advice. Will be implementing all of this!

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