Some things in life are supposed to be guaranteed. If you take care of your body, you expect to be healthy. You do all the right things, make the right choices and reasonably expect to live a long, healthy life. Shortly after her 30th birthday, Barbara discovered that life offers no such guarantees.
Barbara met her husband Edward in her early 20s. He was the picture of health: a former professional athlete who exercised regularly, never drank or smoked, and made wise food choices. From the very beginning they had a strong connection. They dated for a couple of years, were engaged for a few more then they were married. At the start of their engagement they bought a house together. Barbara joked that they would have twins, a boy and a girl, to complete their family and get it all done at once.
Edward had three children from a previous marriage. When he married Barbara the kids came to live with them full time since the children’s mother had moved away to pursue her own interests. Barbara had already spent quite a bit of time with the kids as Edward had shared custody; every other week the boys came to live with them. She loved the children as though they were her own.
Two years after marrying, life couldn’t be better for Barbara and Edward. To their delight, they had just discovered that they were expecting – twins! Then one day after work Edward went into the kitchen with one of the boys to work on dinner while Barbara went to change. Without any warning he collapsed. Within seconds he was dead. Barbara later found out that he had heart disease that obviously had not been detected during a full physical just six months earlier. A few days before, Edward had felt a bit dizzy while removing his shoes at the end of the day but it was not particularly noteworthy so he didn’t worry about it. That was the only symptom he ever had.
Like so many women who are suddenly widowed, Barbara recalled that Edward did not have a will. What was to happen with his children? They had never talked about this type of situation because neither of them thought it would ever happen to them.
While Barbara loved the children, all teenagers by this time, she had a difficult relationship with Edward’s ex-wife. The latter had mostly disappeared from the children’s lives yet suddenly she wanted the kids to go live with her – but only on a part-time basis. She called Barbara to ask if they could resume the one-week-on, one-week-off arrangement. Barbara told the kids that her home was their home, and they chose to stay with her. After a few months she encouraged the kids to re-establish a relationship with their mother and they reluctantly began to visit. That didn’t last long. One of the kids went to live with relatives and the other two stayed with Barbara.
Then there was the issue of finances. Since Barbara and Edward each had salaried jobs with benefits and pensions, they were doing quite well. He had a reasonable life insurance policy through his work and he had told Barbara that he wanted that split four ways between her and the kids. Barbara honored that request, but it didn’t leave her with much money, certainly not enough to pay off the mortgage and to cover their debts. She had her own insurance policy for him that did help to pay off those liabilities, but it didn’t leave her with any extra money to live on or to set aside for her unborn twins.
Barbara regrets that they didn’t take more time to consider their insurance needs. Yes, you have to pay off the mortgage and the debts, but what about setting money aside for the kids? Or having money to live on for a while to ease the stress while you grieve? There is enough going on emotionally after such a loss without having to worry about money on top of that.
Thankfully, Barbara had a very supportive family and benefits that provided disability pay while she took time off to deal with multiple challenges: the trauma of losing her husband, the stress of figuring out what to do with his children and the physical demands of a pregnancy.
I asked Barbara what words of advice she has for other women. Here is her list:
1. Ensure that you have a will and that it is up-to-date with all of the details mapped out, particularly regarding children and money.
2. If you get into a relationship with someone who already has children, you must talk about what to do with the kids in the event of a tragedy. Do not assume that it won’t happen. Ensure that the ex is in agreement. If she isn’t, there will be more stress and difficulty. Once there is a plan to which everyone can agree, put it in writing in the will.
3. Plan your life insurance very carefully to ensure that you have security beyond paying off your liabilities.
Do you know of someone who has experienced a difficult loss or divorce? If so please pass on this blog and ask them to get in touch with me. I’d love to interview them for my book.
Next post: The stay-at-home dilemma