Life, Loss and Legacy

For most of the people we work with, the term ‘widow’ can be hard to get used to.

Sometimes, it’s because the word sounds like it’s for people much older than they feel. For others, it’s because the word’s not big enough to encompass their experience, their past, their life – and their loss.

It also feels, to me, like it’s a very ‘final’ word, in that it sounds like a final state of being. Where the experience seems, from my observation, to be far more fluid than that.

The grief comes, it peaks, it falls, then it comes back again.

It appears at odd times, but then doesn’t show up when we might expect it to. There’s no linear path people follow as they navigate such a loss.

Financial Fluidity

This is also true with the financial aspects of their life now.

Often the family finances have always been a bit of a mystery. Sometimes, that’s been a mutually agreed choice; other times, it’s long been a point of contention.

Either way, they’re now confronted with an assortment of financial arrangements, decisions, considerations, advisers and complexities.

All of which also sit upon a complicated bed of emotions, worries and concerns.

Because money doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

All of us bring our own perspectives and feelings to our money. Which is influenced by – and influences – how we earn, spend, keep, grow and manage our money through our life, our loss and our legacy.

It all flows together, mixing to make the whole ‘financial’ side of bereavement challenging.

Your Financial Life Together

These unique perspectives exist because each of us have our own financial stories – which are the product of decisions we’ve made, actions we’ve taken and the individual circumstances of our lives.

There are often similarities – lots of people own properties, have mortgages, have shares, superannuation, insurances, bank accounts, budgets, etc.

But every person’s situation is unique to them.

This applies to how you both built the money you’re now left to manage on your own.

There are, really, four ways that you both grew your wealth over the years:

  • Both did it together
  • You did it all
  • He did it all
  • Somebody inherited it

Which is to say, perhaps you already had some financial heft behind you before you met – a property or two, savings, investments, etc. You brought that into the relationship and built upon that foundation.

Or maybe you both started with nothing and, with hard work, sacrifice and a dollop of good fortune, were able to secure your financial situation over the years.

Perhaps one, or both of you, had high paying careers.

Maybe you ran a successful family business.

Either way, it was a joint effort – juggling the day-to-day commitments of family life with the time-sapping requirements of financial realities.

It could be that the division of labour was starker than this, and he took care of the money side and you handled the home front. Over time, this determines how much you know about the financial picture – a feeling you might be finding challenging now.

Finally, an inheritance might be the source of much of your wealth. This is something I’m seeing more frequently as people inherit larger sums from their family than ever before.

But it’s not just the assets they’ve inherited – often it’s the habits, education and attitude towards money that’s plays the biggest part in people building their own financial future.

After all, plenty of people squander their inheritance – the people I see tend to be the people who have instead protected it over their lifetime.

I find that the way your financial life came to be – individual effort, joint commitment or familial support – strongly influences the emotions you have tied up in your wealth.

Emotions which assume extra power during periods of loss and bereavement.

 The Emotional Ties That Bind

Take what some might see as the ‘traditional’ scenario – he earnt the bulk of the household income and managed the finances, while you juggled the commitments and requirements of everything else.

This is the experience of most of the people we work with and, for many of them, they’re bringing a very specific set of emotional considerations to their new life of individual responsibility.

Some are embarrassed by how little they know about their family’s financial picture. They can’t bring themselves to regret how they did things – because that brings the risk of questioning the life they built together over the years.

But they feel embarrassed, often because they think others – i.e., professional advisers – are judging them for not knowing where everything is.

(Just speaking for us – we’re not judging you. We get it.)

Another frequent emotional consideration is worry, or fear, about their new future. Previously, they’d had confidence that their partner had the financial picture under control – their future wasn’t something they had to worry about very much.

But now that he’s gone, not only does the full responsibility for managing their finances sit on their shoulders, they’re also left wondering if there’s enough money.

Enough to cover the bills, to help the kids, to pay the mortgage, to retire, to stay in the house – enough to live the life they’d always planned on living.

This uncertainty is a heavy burden to carry.

When it’s coupled with their embarrassment, though, it also becomes quite challenging to seek out the help they need – and doing it alone is far more difficult.


This is before discussing the emotional impact of losing your partner in life, as well.

The strength of that grief – constant, but variable with moments of utter sadness mixing with memories that bring a smile to your face.

This loss and sadness shapes your reaction to having to navigate this new financial future.

As does the condition of the finances they’ve left behind.

Especially in the scenario where you’ve agreed to leave the finances to them.

Well, when they’re gone, there are four possible ways to describe the financial picture they’ve left behind:

  • A mess
  • A mystery
  • A surprise
  • Clarity and certainty

Each of these situations will weigh on your emotional experience of your loss.

I’ve worked with people whose husband left them a significant amount of wealth – but the records were a mess. Shoeboxes of bank statements and mismatched folders filled with records of shares that’d been disposed of long-ago. Properties with mortgages in my client’s name – that they had no recollection of signing.

Imagine – or you may not need to, depending on what your experience is – the conflicting emotions that come with such a discovery.

On one hand, they were tremendously grateful and appreciative of the funds their husband had accumulated and left behind. (We were able to show her that their wealth would easily provide for the rest of her life).

But on the other, she would often shake her head with resignation and frustration at having to open yet another shoebox.

Because the idea of having to call another bank to find out what was active and what had been closed annoyed her more than her grief would allow her to admit. (We were able to help with these calls as well).

Finally, there are moments of anger – at him, and at themselves – about these mortgages that were secured by properties they didn’t want to sell. But now might have to.

This tangle – this juggle of emotions both positive and negative – is a frequent experience for people whose husband and partner have left behind a Mess or a Mystery with their finances.

But, with a careful and gradual approach, we’re able to help clean the Mess up, wrestle everything back into order and help people use the bricks they’ve been left to construct a financial house that works for them and their new life.


Finally, there’s one significant – and arguably little-discussed – aspect of financial grief that I’ve seen people struggle with.

How to respect and honour their partners financial legacy.

Especially when that legacy was built by a certain person, within their own financial comfort zone and for a certain lifestyle.

Each of which are now, sadly, gone.

Because his understanding of finance might have been significantly different to yours. Maybe they were more comfortable with volatility and risk – in which case the sizeable, high-growth share portfolio might no longer be suitable.

Perhaps they loved managing your superannuation via a self-managed super fund – but that’s the last thing you want to do.

It could be they had a favourite property, a holiday house maybe, but the thought of being there without him fills you with dread and sadness.

It’s Your Choice

In these situations – where this drastic change in your circumstances renders some arrangements unsuitable – there’s really only one choice to make.

  • Keep things as they are or make changes.

Often, keeping things as they are is the default choice. After all, they built this and they had their reasons. It’s also a way of staying connected to them now that they’re gone.

And sometimes people fear us advising them that things need to change. They’ve been through enough change by the time we’ve met, and the idea of being told they have to sell the beach house filled with so many memories will keep them away from us.

But the fortunate reality is that, often, there’s no rush in doing anything.

Once the initial flush of arrangements has cleared, most people have time to design and define their new life (which is what we help with).

And that process involves assessing each element of their finances – so they can work out themselves what they want to keep of their late partner’s legacy.

Or honour that same legacy of financial strength and comfort to explore other options.

It’s an emotionally fraught path people walk to our door. It’s paved with fear – fear of undoing, or wasting, their partner’s financial legacy.

It’s lined by duty – the duty they feel to honour their legacy by leaving things as they are.

And it’s lined by the impulse people often feel to maintain the status quo.

Which isn’t surprising – this is often the financial embodiment of their late husband’s life. Changing that can feel like losing them again, so resistance to the idea is natural.

Because it also feels like losing the life they were going to have together all over again as well.



Of course, I’m a financial adviser, not a therapist.

My abilities lay very much in the ‘mechanical’ part of building your new financial life. The quantifiable aspects of your money arrangements – the what, the where, when and how.

But in my experience, giving that advice without a full understanding of the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ limits how effective it can ever be.

And the reality is that plenty of other advisers can help with the mechanical aspects.

In fact, from what some of my clients have told me, their focus on the mechanical makes their advice feel cold and distant.

My hope with PlanningSolo is that by focusing on the person – their life, loss and legacy – we’re able to deliver advice and service that’s helpful as they find their way forward.

And I believe that comes from getting to know you, beyond just the mechanics of money.


If you’d like to find out more about how we can help, you can book in a time using this link, or send Jordan an email via [email protected].


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