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When Procrastination Helps

For the first time in months, the voice sounded pure relief. Her gratitude was almost embarrassing.
Her husband's death had been long, hard and expensive, not that she was short of cash. Her husband's investments were worth seven figures; she had more than $250,000 in stocks and bonds. She believed in taking an active part in investment decisions, never consulting her husband about her own account. She was, in short, comfortable with making financial and investment decisions. Her investment advisor considered her a savvy investor.

But on this day, a few days after her husband's death, she had to decide what to do with the proceeds of a $50,000 bond that had matured. Her gratitude resulted from her advisor's suggestions that the investment decision be delayed and that she keep the cash available for unexpected expenses.

Second only to emotional stress following death of a spouse, financial uncertainty causes the greatest concern for survivors – even savvy ones. There are so many unknowns. What bills must be paid? What regular income, if any, can be taken from savings? What happens to pensions? What will living costs be now? The questions multiply in both complexity and number if there are children.

At the same time, the typical grieving mind is ill-equipped to deal with anything but emotional recovery for the first few months. A few straightforward principles can help to avoid adding long-term financial grief on top of the emotional grief.

&Mac183; Confine financial decisions to basics; if a decision concerns anything beyond what's needed for short-term survival, postpone it for at least six months. Beyond payment for food and the roof over your head, there's not much that can't wait.

&Mac183; Delay dealing with most complicated issues, particularly if they require decisions that cannot later be reversed or whose impact is lasting.

&Mac183; Don't worry about missing investment opportunities; concern yourself only with those actions required to avoid risk. Generally, add to savings rather than to investment portfolios. Your body will tell you when it's ready to assign priority to investments, and you will then typically make decisions of better quality.

Any investment professional in business for more than a year or two can tell tales of contracts signed, investments made, financial activities undertaken soon after bereavement that are completely beyond memory later. Often, the same person under less stressful conditions would not have taken the same course.

One widow who came through a harsh period of grief signed away a monthly income to a young, single, abusive daughter – and did not know she had done so until, one day, the mutual fund company mistakenly sent the check to her instead of her daughter. She had absolutely no memory of signing the forms several months
earlier, and was quite upset when she found out what she had done.
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