Lost after a loss

A widow coping with the loss of her husband and her job is unsure about her financial security. What should she do? Bruce Sellery has this advice.

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Question

I turned 60 on December 25th, 2008. A couple of weeks after my birthday I was downsized from my job. Two weeks later my husband died of cancer. My E.I. ran out pretty fast and I had to start collecting CPP early in order to pay my bills. I feel very fortunate to receive $448 per month through my husband’s pension, but it is always on my mind that I could lose this income. His company has a financial adviser who invests the money, but even though he has tried to explain the investments, I don’t understand what they are about. Since my husband died I still seem to have a hard time coping and doing even the simplest tasks. Any advice?

Answer

You have been through a lot in the last few years. Clearly both your financial and emotional health are in need of some care and attention and that needs to be your priority right now. Here are three things I recommend you do right away.

Get yourself some support: You are having a hard time coping, and that issue deserves immediate attention. Make an appointment with your family doctor and ask about the symptoms of depression. He or she may have some recommendations on how to deal with your current state of mind or be able to make a referral to a counselor or widow’s support group. Also, print off this column and talk to three people you trust about the ideas I’ve provided to you. They might have other suggestions on how to be supportive.

Talk to your financial adviser: Ask him directly about the risks you face when it comes to your pension income. What are the risks that are relevant in your case, what is the probability that they might happen and are there any further actions that you can take to minimize them? It may be that your money is already in very safe investments. Or he may need to make some changes following your discussion. The important thing here is not to worry about things that aren’t relevant. It is a waste of time and energy, which are both valuable resources you need to be living your life to the fullest. For even more peace of mind, you might even consider getting a second opinion on your investments from another adviser to see if their assessment of risk is similar.

Also, don’t think that you have to understand everything that your adviser talks about. I know how to back up my computer’s hard drive, but I don’t understand how it works and I couldn’t repair it if my life depended on it.

Consider going back to work: I know this suggestion might seem ludicrous given that you still have a hard time with simple tasks. But as you heal emotionally, a job could help you in two very important ways. First, the additional income will give you a bit of financial flexibility, which in turn will ease your worries somewhat. And second, it may help you get out of your current state, giving you a regular place to go to and a community of people to be with. At just 63-years-old the actuaries would say that you’ve still have a lot of living to do.

I take it as a very good sign that you reached out and asked for advice. Now is the time to take it and get the help you need to put your worries to rest and the spring back in your step.

ask@moneysense.ca

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