Major Life Changes and Housing Decisions

Losing a spouse or partner is one of the most difficult times of life. It’s important to take time to grieve your loss before making big decisions. But when you’re ready, it’s important to examine where and how you’re living in order to determine what might be best in the future. The third publication in the Housing Decision Guides series from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which I’m thrilled to be promoting and sharing our Senior Housing Hunt branding on the materials —  delves into how to make housing decisions after the loss of a spouse or partner.

Making Housing Decisions After Losing a Spouse or Partner” divides the process of deciding whether to stay in your current home into three areas: emotional, physical, and financial. Let’s briefly look at each one.

Emotional Aspect

When adjusting to life without your spouse or partner, the first question to ask is whether staying in the home you shared is the right decision emotionally. The booklet recommends exploring this aspect by yourself or with a trusted family member or friend.

Does remaining in a current home bring happy memories or add to the feeling of loss? If possible, take time to determine this, as feelings may change over time. It’s also important to consider proximity to family members and friends, and how close you want to be to them. Will moving mean the ability to be socially active, or will it mean isolation?

If you want to move, the booklet advocates considering a familiar community or one near family members and friends, and to consider a home or apartment with fewer stairs and more safety features.

Physical Aspect

Even if you are healthy now, it’s important to consider how much your overall health will change over time. Are you physically able to take care of your home now? What about in the future? “Making housing decisions after losing a spouse or partner” includes a handy checklist of questions to help assess your physical ability to stay in your home after a spouse dies. It examines such aspects as yardwork, grocery shopping and running errands, managing medications, navigating long hallways or stairs at home, and more.

If you decide to stay in your home after a spouse dies, there are ways to make your house age-ready for the future. Easy modifications  — handrails on stairs, non-slip rugs, ramps, grab bars, a walk-in shower — can ensure that your current home is a safe space well into the future. The booklet also has links to several sources for more information and assistance.

Financial Aspect

Although finances can be a delicate topic, it’s important to examine the loss of income that may result from the death of a partner or spouse. Current monthly expenses will likely remain the same, but your ability to meet those expenses may decrease. Another CFPB publication, Help for Surviving Spouses, may help. It’s important to talk with a trust family member, financial professional or HUD-approved housing counseling agency.

Again, the booklet has a set of questions as well as a list of resources to assist you in determining your financial readiness to stay in your current home. It includes such items as claiming all the survivor and beneficiary benefits to which you are entitled, continuing or returning to work  to cover expenses, and creating a household budget.

If you can’t afford to stay in your home, there are a number of options enumerated in the booklet. CFPB recommends talking to an expert — for example, a housing counselor or credit counselor, looking into any available utility or real estate tax assistance in your area, downsizing or finding a roommate. There also are ways to access your home’s equity, which I’ll explain in detail in next week’s blog.

The important thing to remember is to — as much as possible — take the time you need to grieve the loss of your life partner. Then, when ready, consult with trusted family and friends and weigh your options. The process will help you create your own safe space to call home.

See previous blogs on this series of publications:
Making Decisions When Your Health Changes
Leaving your Home to Children or Heirs

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work on aging-in-place options. The author, Reese Fayde, is a dedicated problem solver and skills development coach. She’s passionate about working with change-makers — individuals committed to transforming the status quo, whether it’s in their industry, community, or organization.

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