I am often annoyed at the articles and interviews that position women in a very ugly light when it comes to money. We are often depicted as dumb, flighty, air-headed and out of control. If you were to Google search books about women and money, there are numerous ones in the marketplace to "help us" get a grip on what we need to do in our financial life. Some of them are very helpful, some are not. But, on the flip side of things, if you search for books about men and money, the results are dismal. The reality is that men are viewed as having it all together, women are not.
Why is that? Women have allowed themselves, to a certain extent, to be kept in the dark about their household finances. A recent survey indicated that 65% of men make all of the financial decisions in their home without any input from their spouse. Time and time again I see the impact this has on a woman. I have sat down with many distraught women who seek out my guidance after going through a divorce or when they suffer the loss of their spouse. I have had to teach them how to write a check, balance their checkbook, pay a utility bill -- simply because their husbands handled it all. Why do we allow ourselves to become so dependent on a man? We are the caregivers, the nurturers, the listeners, but we are also the ones that allow ourselves to lose our independence. Why is that? I still try to understand that myself.
One of the hardest and most financially devastating experiences to go through in life is divorce. You enter into a marriage never looking for the exit door, but sometimes it just happens. The unfortunate reality is that one out of two marriages will end in divorce. If you are newly divorced, there are specific items that need to be addressed as soon as possible.
1. Get Your Documents Organized: Make sure you have several copies of your Final Judgment or Decree and/or Marital Settlement Agreement. These may be needed if you are transferring any property, separating debt, etc. Also, make a list of your team of consultants -- CPA, Stock Broker, Banker, etc. Notify them of the divorce and make appointments to bring them up to speed and determine how your new status is going to affect things.
2. Work with a Financial Professional: This is a key step if you are new to handling your finances. Sit down with an advisor and get an overall picture of where you are now as the new financial head of household. Review your divorce decree pertaining to your investments, ownership and custodial responsibility of your children's accounts (if applicable), and take a full Personal Financial Inventory of all of your investments.
3. Settle Accounts: If you have joint checking/savings accounts, make sure to close or distribute all joint assets according to the decree. You want to make sure your ex-spouse is removed from your signature card, safety deposit box, etc. at your bank and that all credit/debit cards are returned or disposed of properly.
4. Retitle Assets: According to your decree/settlement, properly retitle assets such as cars, motorcycles, boats, homes, etc. as soon as possible.
5. Change Your Beneficiary: One of the most commonly "overlooked" mistakes is to not change your beneficiary. Review your life insurance policies, retirement accounts, annuities, etc. to make the necessary updates to your beneficiary. You want to make sure your wealth transfers to the right hands, not the wrong ones!
6. Consider Your Retirement: Pay close attention to retirement assets. Roll over or transfer retirement assets according to your divorce decree and/or QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order). Make sure to review all of your retirement accounts, including pensions and employer-sponsored plans.
6. Update Your Will: If you have a will, update it. If you don't, establish one! You are now the new captain of your financial ship. Establish a new power of attorney, health care and financial directive and if you have children , you may consider establishing a trust for their benefit.
7. Consider Insurance: Most people cringe at the word insurance. It is better to have and not need than need and not have. Review with your financial professional and consider adding life and/or long term care insurance to your financial house. Now that you are on your own, putting the necessary investments in place in case of sickness or death just might be the right thing to do.
8. Review Your Benefits: Contact the Social Security Administration to check your eligibility if you are 62 or older and were married for longer than 10 years. If you spouse was a veteran, contact the VA to see if there are any benefits available to you.
9. Review Your Health Coverage: If your divorce decree establishes that you will continue coverage under your spouse's employer, make sure to contact the company and request current information about the type of plan and what is covered. Also update them to your new address if you have relocated and make it a point to stay in touch every few months. This will keep you in the loop if your ex-spouse has made any changes to the plan. If you need to establish your own health care coverage, shop around and compare companies and quotes.
10. Design a New Plan: Design a plan that meets your new life. If you are not used to being responsible for the bills, devise a budget and stick to it. Do not allow yourself to get overwhelmed. Stay involved and encouraged. You need to be financially responsible in your new life. Don't feel ashamed to ask questions and listen to advice, from a qualified financial professional.
Even though you may feel like you are living in a fog , the smoke does clear. You can recover from a divorce, sometimes better than you ever were before. I am speaking from personal experience. Stay in control, even if love does find you again.