Young women don’t think about widowhood – in their minds it’s too far in the future. Middle-aged women may think about it from time to time, if their husbands are not healthy or they see it happening to their peers. Many older women have “been there, done that.” I myself am in that latter category. Here are a few thoughts on the future of new widows and one of the most important decisions they may have to make: the decision on where to live.
“If at all possible, I would advise all new widows to stay in their current homes for at least a year.”
New widows will need time to process the changes that will come to her life. Relationships with family members and friends will change. Income will change. Life circumstances will change. Get settled into your new life before making any decisions about moving to a different location. When life settles down, or if you need to make decisions in a more timely manner, consider these aspects to make the best decision for you.
Take a look at your finances with two goals in mind — short-term needs and long-term needs.
- Can you still afford your housing costs, whether that be rent or a mortgage, property taxes and other homeowner expenses like insurance for the short-term? Long-term?
- Are you retired or about to retire? Will your income remain the same or similar over a period of time?
- Do you have any great amount of debt that needs to be paid off? Are you supporting any other family members such as children or grandchildren?
Everyone’s finances are different and complicated. If your finances are overwhelming, you may benefit from getting professional financial advice from your bank or financial institution. Family members are not necessarily the most reliable givers of sound financial advice. Take advice from someone who has no interest in the outcome of your decisions. And after the death of a spouse, it is vital to update your will.
Homeownership and Home Equity
Some people are able to plan ahead for widowhood. My father had a slow-growing but terminal cancer. When he and my mother downsized their Colorado home, they put the new house in her name only. This simplified the situation at the end of his life. Another Colorado couple I know moved to a smaller house before his death from complications of Alzheimer’s. Since he was legally unable to sign a contract, the new house is in her name. If possible, making these kinds of arrangements can help simplify things after a loved one’s death.
If you do own your own home, you probably have equity built up. What do you want to use this equity for? Do you want to put off selling your home for as long as possible, or do you need that equity to pay for living arrangements? Downsizing is always an option for new widows. Your home equity may be able to be used comfortably for condominium or apartment living. Or, if you can live comfortably in an apartment without selling your home, you may benefit from having rental income.
Another circumstance that may affect your location decision is whether or not you are living alone or with another family member. My stepdaughter lives in my house and I don’t feel lonely. One of my daughter’s school friends still lives with his widower father a few blocks away. This seems to suit them both.
In their later years, most people move to be close to family. One of my friends would be back in Oregon if it weren’t for the fact that her grandsons are in California. Include your family on any decision about where to live.
What is the state of your health? Do you feel healthy enough to keep up the family home? Do you foresee any immediate need for assisted living arrangements? Although no one has a crystal ball to look into the future, you can foresee your future medical needs by evaluating your current medical needs.
What you feel like doing physically will determine your type of residence. If you do not have the stamina to keep up a big yard, or no longer want to clean a large home, a smaller dwelling will probably be in your future. If you suffer from deteriorating health, a facility with all types of care — independent care, assisted living care, and memory care — might suit your needs as the years go by.
Do you like to entertain? Do you enjoy hosting out-of-town friends and relatives? Moving to a smaller house may require that you give up enjoyable entertaining activities. When I was widowed, I put my name on the waiting list of a senior apartment complex closer to my daughter and her husband. When my name came to the top of the list, I turned it down. I was not ready to give up my garden and my house with several guest rooms. I like people (and fresh vegetables!) too much.
If you are a younger widow, keeping friends, jobs, and activities will probably be very easy. Widows with children and grandchildren will probably not lack for social interactions. Older widows or women without children or siblings may need to look more closely at the activities they may want to take up or continue. Staying in touch with family and the community may take more effort. Don’t discount how important good neighbors are if you have them.
What do you like about your current location? Close to the freeway? Far from the freeway? Close to mass transit, close to small or large shopping centers? Would you like to be near the ocean, gulf, lakes, mountains, plains, desert? If you moved, what would you keep the same and what would you change? Our environment has a great deal of influence on our happiness.
Possible Future Obligations
If you are a young widow, you may have living parents. Is there a possibility that one or both of them might have to live with you in their final years? My father-in-law lived with us until he fell and broke his hip. Seniors who can’t afford to live on their own may end up living with their family. That may be you. Save them a room.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, will you need money to help an adult child with buying a home? Most parts of the country have reasonable home prices and mortgage availability – other parts of the country, not so much. Young people might need a financial boost from your home equity to give them a good start on financial independence.
Whatever you decide, think it through and make the decision based on what is best for you ultimately. While family input is important, resist pressure to make a decision that doesn’t feel right for your future life. If you can afford it and can take care of what you currently have, staying put is a valid decision, too.