You’ve woken up, a few weeks after the funeral. You don’t fill the kettle as high anymore, just enough for the tea you drink with your toast each morning.
You sit at the bench, open your phone and start flicking through Facebook until the water boils. Out of the corner of your eye, you see the envelopes piled next to the microwave.
You opened the first one, but the form letter addressed ‘To Whom It May Concern’, followed by rows of unruly numbers annoyed you. So you dropped it there, and it’s gained a pile of companions in the weeks since.
There have been a few of these things that have annoyed you since losing him.
You know it’s not entirely rational, but is it really too much to ask the world to just leave you alone? For a little while, at least? Admin while grieving is a particularly awful thing to inflict.
But, as the kettle clicks off, you admit that it’s time to work out what to do about all this stuff.
The loans, oh god, the loans.
So you hop off the stool, walk over and gather up the pile, and dump it all on the bench.
As the steam squeezes out of the spout of the kettle, you stand there, put your hands on your hips and say aloud – “well, what the hell do I do now?”
You’re Not Alone
The irritating reality of losing somebody (well, one of them, anyway) is that the rest of the world doesn’t stop. It all just keeps rolling on, interrupting you as you grasp your way through this next part of life.
Sending letters, calling on the phone, emails, the whole wazoo.
And, unfortunately, telling them to leave you alone – perhaps with more colourfully entertaining language – isn’t all that effective either.
So, eventually, the time comes when you must grasp the nettle and start working out just what it all is.
You’re not alone though – most people I work with have landed at this same point, and I doubt their experience is unusual.
They’ve all woken up one day, as you have, with the sudden weight of being responsible for their entire financial situation.
Which is why I’m confident in saying – you can do it.
It may not be easy, it may take time and it may, at times, make you uncomfortable – but you can definitely do it.
Here are some ideas to help you get started.
No Need To Rush
“Sudden wealth forces us into an unfamiliar situation, piles on stress and does all of this overnight. If we don’t take a step back and slow things down, we can make all kinds of bad decisions.”
Page 23, The Sudden Wealth Solution.
While there will be some things that need to be resolved fairly quickly, most of the bigger decisions can be put off until you’re comfortable and confident in your choices.
The key is identifying which ones are which, and for help with that, you’re going to want some help.
Let’s move to step 2.
Find People You Can Really Trust
It’s a topic for a whole other post – or entire library of books – but money and humans can be a volatile mix.
People you’ve known for years, and who supported you through the loss might transform into overbearing messengers about the money.
Family often stop ‘keeping their own counsel’ and suddenly develop opinions and theories on just what you ‘should’ do with the money.
Advisers you’ve had for years might be out of their depth, but terrified to let you know.
All while you’re in a deeply uncertain frame of mind, doubting your decisions and beliefs about money.
Having the world shift on you while you’re having a spell of vertigo is not an pleasant experience.
One way to tackle this – and this is a recurring theme, this idea of you consistently taking small, proactive actions – is to start casting around for at least professional advisers you can trust.
Treat it like you’re hiring somebody for your company. After all, these people will work for you.
Get the word out amongst people you already trust, solicit recommendations, look online, and shortlist your preferred options.
Then arrange to meet with them – in-person is best, but video can work if need be.
Get out of your comfort zone and ask them some tough questions.
- How do you get paid?
- What experience do you have in helping people like me?
- What if you get something wrong?
- What if I’m unhappy?
Working through this process will help you find professional advisers – like an accountant, solicitor, financial adviser – that you can trust.
Because you’re going to need to trust them as you get to work on taking back control of your financial destiny.
(I’ve written about this in the past – this post might be useful if you’re in this spot.)
Know Thy Numbers
It’s possible that you do not have a strong grasp of the financial arrangements your partner has left behind.
This can sometimes leave people feeling guilty, or embarrassed, but hopefully there’s some comfort in knowing that this was simply your reality. This life was shaped by the decisions you both made, and it is what it is.
One of the best steps you can take now is to start arming yourself with information.
So, start finding out what you own, owe, earn and spend.
This will involve some detective work but as tiresome as you may find it, this process of ferreting out the various bits and pieces will help build your confidence about your money.
There are a few good places to start.
Often, your accountant – presuming you and your partner had the same one – will have information on most of the assets and loans. It might be worth contacting them and asking them to mail out a summary of the information they have, a balance sheet if they can.
(Sidenote – I get that snail mail is annoying, but it’s a lot more secure than email and given what we’re talking about, use email sparingly).
Taking Back Control – One Envelope At a Time
Another option – that pile of envelopes. The ones that make you feel annoyed, silly, confused, lonely, suspicious? Yep, those ones.
Well, they all contain information that you should be aware of. So take some time and grab a notebook.
Write four headings:
- Next Action
Then start opening the letters.
And with each letter, note down the date of the letter. Add who it’s from – the company and the person.
Then summarise the information in there, before noting the next action – and who’s going to do it.
Each row contributes to your understanding of your financial situation. And it also has the nice side effect of diluting that stress and concern you feel every time you see that pile of envelopes.
The goal here is for you to get a feel for your new finances. It’s not to have a granular understanding of the various accounts, investments, loans and holdings – although if you do, that’s even better!
But it’s more to know the general shape of your situation. The specifics will come.
These are the three steps I recommend working through as you start out on this journey of defining, managing and living this next part of your life. They’re not easy – none of this is going to be easy I’m sorry to say.
But I believe they’re a manageable way to get started on taking control. They help lay the foundation of confidence, knowledge and experience you’ll need for the bigger decisions that you’ll face along the way.
Remember those envelopes?
How you feel every time you see that pile near the microwave? Or how your stomach drops a little when you see another one in the mailbox?
These steps are the best way I know of to get rid of those feelings. Working through it all slowly, with intention and clarity.
Then that pile will disappear, taking that stress with it.
And all you’ll have to take care of in the morning is boiling the kettle and making your tea.
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