Your Survival Guide to Unexpectedly Retiring Alone

By Amy Irvine, CFP®, EA, MPAS®, CCFC

Retirement is an enormous transition in and of itself. Not to mention when you have to unexpectedly start that new chapter on your own. Retiring alone due to divorce or the loss of a spouse is overwhelming, to say the least. If that’s your case, know that you’re not really alone. The Savvy Ladies community and the Rooted Planning Group have your back. Read on to get tips to not only survive, but thrive in retirement.

Retiring After the Loss of a Spouse

If you’re retiring alone due to the death of a spouse, it’s best to avoid making major decisions in the first 6 months after the loss, when emotions run high. Most decisions can wait, as long as there is enough income. Working with someone outside the family is a good idea here, to remove the emotional factor as much as possible.

Retiring After Divorce

When retirement overlaps with divorce, the work to be done is pre-divorce. Don’t assume too much debt in order to “keep the house.” The house is a non-liquid asset, it won’t feed you or pay your bills. Make sure that you don’t become “house rich and cash poor,” especially if this is going to force you into retirement, even if it is temporary.

Follow these 5 steps to thrive in retirement:

1. Know your numbers

The #1 step for any woman unexpectedly retiring alone is to know her numbers. Ask yourself:

  • What is your net worth (assets – liabilities)? 
  • What is your monthly budget? How much does it cost to support your lifestyle each month / year? 
  • What will your monthly income be in retirement? How much in social security and pensions are you entitled to? 

If you were previously married for more than 10-years, don’t forget to look at your spouse’s social security benefit–you may be eligible for a spousal benefit. 


2. Access all your accounts

It is important to verify the details of all of your accounts. You should know where accounts are held and who owns them. Start by confirming that the correct name is listed and no one is listed that shouldn’t be. Then review the beneficiaries on each account to be sure they still match your wishes. Lastly, make sure you understand the registration of the account, whether it is a taxable account or a retirement account and what that means. 

If finances were kept separate, request a summary of accounts be kept somewhere secure and know who has access to the accounts. 


3. Stay on top of your bills

Know your basic expenses and how to “fund” them. Have a list of bills and write out where each payment is coming from and who’s name is on the bill. If something happens you can refer to the list to make sure your services continue on uninterrupted by changing payment methods or submitting proper documentation to change names. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it be from a family member, friend, or financial planner.


4. Work with an expert

If sorting through everything feels overwhelming, you should consider working with a financial planner. It’s an expense up front but it can make a huge difference in your retirement planning and also provide peace of mind. If that isn’t doable, there are lots of books and classes that can educate you and help ensure that you enjoy the next phase of her life. Be sure to check out the Savvy Ladies blog, webinars and Free Financial Helpline.


5. Find your tribe

Once you have verified everything and become familiar with your net worth and cash flow, it is equally important to be involved in a community. You not only need to protect yourself by understanding your numbers, you also need to protect your mental health. It is easy to feel isolated and lonely, on top of the changes. Find things to do such as volunteering, joining a club, taking a class, spending time with grandkids, being active, taking on a part time job, etc. If you aren’t ready to retire, but are being forced to, ask yourself if there’s a part-time fun retirement job you’d like to do.

As you start navigating retirement on your own, remember you’re not alone. Don’t ever hesitate to ask questions or to seek help understanding your information.

Amy Irvine, CFP®, EA, MPAS, CCFC, is the Founder and Owner of Rooted Planning Group, a planning group made up of 5 financial planners and 2 part-time staff members. She holds a Master’s Degree in financial planning and is a Certified Financial PlannerTM, Enrolled Agent, Certified College Financial Consultant, and a Financial Wellness Coach with over 26 years of financial planning and industry experience.

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