Merrill Lynch recently partnered with Age Wave, provider of research and solutions focused on the issue of the aging work force, to conduct research on widowhood. The results are published in a new analysis, “Widowhood by the Numbers.”
As the research shows, the loss of a spouse generally dramatically impacts the surviving spouse’s life and finances. According to Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, men and women who actively prepare for losing a spouse fare much better in terms of both stress and grieving, but more than half (53%) of current widows and widowers say they had no plan in place.
Additional findings show 60% of men and women who lose their spouses are immediately burdened by financial expenses, including housing costs such as mortgages or rent.
“The fact that 50% of those who lose a spouse also face a 50% reduction in income only compounds the problem,” warns Maddy Dychtwald, co-founder of Age Wave. “Most widows and widowers—78%—describe the loss of their spouse as the single most difficult and overwhelming life experience. In addition to the financial demands, critical paperwork and decision-making begin their steady creep right away.”
The research suggests two-thirds of widows and widowers say that they had so many things to do, “they were not sure where to even start.”
“That’s when help from a knowledgeable professional can be invaluable,” Dychtwald adds. “Only 14% of widows and widowers say they were making financial decisions by themselves before their spouse died. But once they are widowed, the overwhelming majority—86%—report having to do so.”
As the research points out, an adviser can help a widowed individual “look at all sorts of expenses and what decisions would need to be made.” The adviser is also in a good position to remind widowed individuals to continue to think about and plan for the long-term financial future—difficult as that may be after the loss of a spouse.
“Amid all the pain and difficulty that losing a spouse brings, there is also healing,” Dychtwald says. “The Merrill Lynch/Age Wave research found that 77% of the widows and widowers they interviewed said they discovered courage they never knew they had.”
Lisa Margeson, head of retirement client experience and communications at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, highlights findings to the effect that 72% of widowed individuals say they now consider themselves more financially savvy than other people their age,.
“That is empowering,” she says.