When a spouse or other life partner dies, the emotional toll on the surviving partner can be both bewildering and devastating. Understandably, it can completely disorient one’s perspective and priorities and displace, at least temporarily, concerns about practical matters, other than perhaps funeral arrangements. And yet attention to practical matters under such circumstances is vital.

Because when a partner dies, the surviving partner can very often suffer a dramatic reduction in income (now one income instead of two) while having no equivalent reduction in expenses (such as mortgage and insurance payments that do not change.) So that most practical matter—finances—demands well thought out attention. This can in turn involve a variety of components.

For example, Social Security survivor benefits might now be part of the picture. There may be life insurance benefits to claim, and changes to life insurance policies going forward. The ins and outs of health insurance must be weighed, including availability of Medicare or Medicaid and choices to be made on related details like Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare supplement insurance, prescription drug coverage, dental and vision coverage, long-term care coverage, etc. Although one partner survives, estate matters of the deceased partner—and now likely shifting to the survivor—may come into play and require legal tweaking. Spousal benefits of pensions, annuities, retirement plans, Veterans’ benefits, and the like must be correctly handled. Outstanding loans or debts might have to be resolved. The need for and availability of transportation could be a new issue for the surviving partner. As well as myriad details of managing homeownership.

This is not a complete list. Suffice it to say the overall picture can be challenging and intimidating.

Help is available

On the plus side, there are resources available to help you understand and manage many of these challenges. In some cases you might go directly to a key involved agency, such as the Social Security Administration (ssa.gov) or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (medicare.gov). But it goes without saying these large governmental agencies can, in some cases, be maddeningly difficult to reach and also difficult to understand their requirements and processes.

This is where intermediaries can enter the scene to help. A wide variety of these are listed on the AgeWise Colorado website as “Providers.” Note that we apply a stringent vetting process before enrolling Providers to ensure they are reputable and are committed to the AgeWise mission and vision. We periodically evaluate Providers to confirm adherence to these criteria. Providers include entities such as Partners in Medicare (Partners in Medicare – AgeWise Colorado), Alzheimer’s Association (Alzheimers Association – AgeWise Colorado), Via Mobility (transportation services at Via Mobility Services – AgeWise Colorado) SilverBills (streamlined bill monitoring and auto-payment at SilverBills – AgeWise Colorado), Colorado Legal Aid (Colorado Legal Aid – AgeWise Coloradoa), Veterans’ services (Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center and Veterans Aid and Attendance – AgeWise Colorado), AARP (AARP COLORADO – AgeWise Colorado), and more through our Provider List at Provider Directory – AgeWise Colorado. We invite you to explore our AgeWise website to see just how many Providers are available to help you. One of our key goals is helping you find reliable information and trusted resources in one convenient location.

For those Coloradans over age 60, you may find it helpful to contact the Area Agency on Aging that covers the county in which you live. The Colorado Association of Area Agencies on Aging (c4a-colorado.org) is made up of 16 local Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) across Colorado that provide comprehensive community-based services to older adults aged 60+ and caregivers. Each of them is listed on the AgeWise Colorado website. All Area Agencies on Aging are supported by the federal Older Americans Act and the Colorado Department of Human Services. An AAA typically contracts with local service providers to deliver a menu of direct aging services, such as meals, transportation, and in-home services. Some AAAs also provide information and referrals for case management, health insurance counseling, tax preparation, and family caregiver support programs. You can also find individual AAAs for your area at AgeWise Colorado.

Some AAAs fill a Single Entry Point (SEP) role by providing case management, care planning, and making referrals to other resources for whatever assistance is needed. AAAs assess community needs of older citizens (age 60+), develop and fund programs to meet those needs, serve as portals to care services, educate the senior citizenry about available programs, and connect you with appropriate experts and organizations in the community designed to address specific needs. Many AAAs, for instance, can help navigate the complexities of Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid or serve as an ombudsman in dealing with various bureaucracies. The AAA’s are also required to help those most in need first.

More sources for assistance

Another source that may prove helpful is the Colorado Gerontological Society (senioranswers.org). The Society can assist older adults and families to complete applications for government benefits such as Medicare/Medicaid, utility assistance, food insecurity and economic security.

AARP is actively involved in providing services in every state, and specifically for Colorado at: AARP COLORADO – AgeWise Colorado). Their tax prep assistance program is particularly popular, as well as their coverage of myriad issues surrounding financial issues for retiree-aged persons.

Increasingly popular is AARP’s ElderWatch program (AARP – Elder Watch – AgeWise Colorado), described as a service to “help you organize your finances whether you’re a caregiver, have recently lost a loved one, or if you are looking to learn more about making and sticking to a budget.” ElderWatch also stays on the lookout for scams, especially those known to target older persons. You can meet with one of AARP ElderWatch’s trained peer-to-peer financial counselors in-person or over the phone for assistance. Call 800-222-4444 #2 to schedule a session, free of cost. In the meantime, AARP says to consider these quick financial tips to safeguard your hard-earned money:

  • Check your credit report to safeguard against identity theft. You can check your free credit report by going to www.freeannualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228.
  • New peer-to-peer payment apps and cryptocurrencies have been popping up everywhere. If you are not familiar with these payment methods, be sure to avoid them. You may be at risk of a scam.
  • If you have recently started caregiving, give AARP’s Financial Workbook for Caregivers a look or call 1-877-333-5885 for resources on caregiving. The workbook has resources for managing finances in every care situation.
  • Do you have a will? Most people do not but they are necessary, no matter how many assets you have. Be sure to establish your will, advance directives, and Powers of Attorney. Keep emergency documents in a safe place where someone you trust can find them.

Don’t overlook help already at hand

Elsewhere on this AgeWise Colorado website, you will find additional details on several of the resources described in this article. Look for the heading Practical Advice & Resources. Check especially the submenu items Agency Advocacy Resources; Finance, Legal and Insurance; and Health Care Providers.

This article has covered some of the more prominent resources one can tap for assistance—particularly with financial and other practical matters—in the stressful aftermath of losing a loved one. Needless to say, if you already have trusted advisors for some of your concerns (e.g., a financial advisor, an accountant, an estate planner, other legal advisor), these professionals can continue to be important people to rely on. Be aware that financial management in later years can be complicated. Investment and other professionals specializing in retirement issues can help you analyze your needs, make sound decisions, and align money matters with your goals and your personal risk tolerance level. 

According to the Social Security Administration, a 65-year-old today can expect to live another 19 to 21.5 years. A third of those older adults will hit age 90, and 1 in 7 will live beyond age 95. Many financial companies, and also AARP, offer free online calculators to help you project your “financial future.” Among the oft-cited rules of thumb, it is said you’ll still need about 80 to 100% of your annual working income each year to maintain your lifestyle in retirement, and that you should withdraw only 4% of your retirement savings each year to make your money last your lifetime.  

These figures are generalizations, and people will vary. But it’s clear that managing finances if you are left unpartnered is crucial for your future well-being. Remember, though, even when you may suddenly be newly alone, you do not have to go it alone as you do this managing.