You never thought it could happen to you. But here you are, on your own, and you find yourself flooded with worry. What will happen to the house? How secure are your finances? How will your new independence affect your other relationships-your children, your family members?
Yes, this is a scary time. But it is also one of great opportunity. There are many reasons you could be on this new path to independence-perhaps you experienced the loss of a loved one or you're recovering from an unhealthy relationship. Or maybe you're going through a divorce or getting back on your feet after financial hardship. Regardless, you can and should take life by the reins to ensure you have a smooth transition and make this new chapter one that is fruitful-financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
You don't have to go it alone. Make your leap into independence with the help of this guide, which provides resources, tips, and other advice to help you thrive.
Get Your Legal House in Order
One of the best ways to protect yourself is to understand the laws that apply to your situation. Read on to learn more about the legal steps you may need to take as a newly independent woman:
If your spouse passed away...
Find out how to get power of attorney.
You won't be able to access your late spouse's assets unless you have power of attorney.LegalZoom explains how to get power of attorney after someone's death.
Make changes to or plan your estate.
AARP provides a convenient To Do List to help guide you through the estate planning process. It offers advice on what kind of professional guidance to seek and how to handle donating money from your estate.
If you're getting divorced or are newly divorced...
Familiarize yourself with divorce law.
About.com encourages anyone who's going through a divorce to protect their interests by becoming educated about the process. The site provides several articles to help you do so. Here is a selection:
- U.S. Divorce Laws by State
- How to Keep Divorce Attorney Fees to a Minimum
- Divorce Guide for Women
- How to Create the Financially Smart Divorce
- Common Questions about Child Custody and Visitation
- Issues Surrounding the Division of Marital Property
Create an action plan for next steps.
What should you do once your divorce is finalized? Use Findlaw.com's post-divorce checklistto take action and make sure you've got your legal bases covered.
Via flicker - Brian TurnerIf you're leaving an unhealthy relationship...
Learn about housing rights.
The National Housing Law Project presents state- and local-level laws addressing the housing rights of those who've experienced a troubled relationship. The ACLU also addresses issues surrounding rights to fair housing for people in dangerous situations.
Understand how the law protects you.
The American Bar Association's Division of Public Education provides this brochure, which explains the different kinds of courts and the options available to people in unhealthy relationships within the court system.
If you're recovering from extreme financial difficulty...
Learn about your right to fair and affordable housing.
Understand you do have protections against debt collectors.
If you've experienced financial hardship and as a result are being pursued by debt collectors, know that they are subject to certain laws. The Federal Trade Commission explains the rules debt collectors must follow. For example, they can only contact you during certain hours, and they are not allowed to contact you at work if you've indicated you can't receive such calls there.
Dos and Don'ts of Handling Your Finances
Having financial security can play a significant role in decreasing your anxiety and improving your prospects for the future. Here are a few dos and don'ts to set you on the right path.
Do use available online tools to balance your budget. Balancing your budget can be pesky and tedious. Thankfully, the Financial Literacy & Education Commission offers tools to help you tackle this task more quickly:
Don't jump the gun on major financial decisions.One way to ensure you stay out of financial trouble is careful decision making. Don't take on unnecessary risk by speeding into a major financial decision. As U.S. News & World Reportnotes, there are often telltale signs you're making a bad decision. For example, are you taking advice from someone other than a financial professional? Or are you making the decision under duress? If so, take a step back or do a little more homework before moving forward.
Do beware of scams. Financial scammers are constantly looking for new victims. Anyone is susceptible, but unfortunately, older people are often viewed as easy targets. The federal government's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force provides access to many resources so that you can avoid becoming a victim. Here is a selection:
- National Council on Aging's (NCOA) “22 Tips for Avoiding Scams and Swindles”
- Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation
- Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement's “Protecting Your Income: Tips for Elders”
- NCOA's “Top 8 Ways to Protect Yourself from Scams”
Don't go it alone. The ins and outs of our finances can get complicated. This is especially true if you're separating your assets after a divorce or break up or if you're managing the estate of a deceased spouse. However, as DailyWorth.com recommends in its financial advice for the newly single, you don't have to handle these issues on your own. In fact, it advises putting together the "right team"-a CPA, trust attorney, and financial advisor.
Do keep an eye on your credit report. Regardless of your financial situation, it is always a good idea to keep an eye on your credit score. The University of Florida provides advice on how to check your credit report and how often to get your score. In addition, LifeHacker.comexplains how to monitor your credit for free.
Don't put your dreams on hold. Becoming newly independent doesn't mean you have to put other goals on hold. And as HuffingtonPost.com notes, attaining self-sufficiency by going back to school, starting a business, or getting a license or certification for a new career, is actually a great way to make the most of your independence. Just be sure to do the necessary financial planning as you go.
Make a Move
Whether you're transitioning out of a relationship, recovering from the loss of a loved one, or getting back on your feet financially, changing homes may be a necessary step in securing your independence. If you're making a move, use these tips and resources to simplify the process.
Downsize if necessary. Downsizing can be a great way to kick off this time in your life. While this post's advice is directed at those who've just lost a spouse, it can be modified to work under many different circumstances. For example, start my going through clothing to figure out what doesn't need to come with you. Then, move on to the furniture and wall hangings. And so on.
Find a home that works for you. If you do decide that downsizing is right for you, Realtor.compresents an article with a few things to consider before you buy. For example, even if you don't have kids, look in good school districts. Those residences may retain their value better. The article also recommends that you always take into consideration your security-check local crime rates, prioritize getting a home with an alarm system, etc.
Hire movers. Using movers will make changing homes a lot easier, but hiring movers can pose some unexpected challenges. RealSimple.comoffers great tips to help you ensure you choose a respectable company.
Save where you can. When you're moving, expenses can add up quickly. Use Bankrate.com'stips for a frugal move:
- Lighten your load.
- Sell. Donate. Recycle. Repeat.
- ID DIY Items.
- Move by the numbers.
- Use your calendar.
Make a plan. The more you plan the easier your transition will be. HowStuffWorks.com offers tips to make the final week before your move run smoothly:
- Transfer or close bank accounts.
- Transfer prescriptions.
- Tag furniture for proper placement in the new home.
- Prepare a survival kit in case the moving truck arrives late.
- Defrost refrigerator, strip beds, unplug appliances.
Being newly independent doesn't mean doing everything on your own. You should absolutely enlist the help of those who love and care about you. Here's how to get the support you need:
Ask for help. Requesting help is the first (and often the most difficult!) step to getting the support you need. If there is an area where you struggle, Psychology Today provides advice on how to ask for help. For example, it recommends matching one person who's offered to help you in the past with a task with which you need assistance. Then, reach out to them.
Find a support group that works for you. Regardless of the reason, being newly independent can be daunting. Talking with others who are in a similar situation can be very helpful. Though it's directed at selecting a support group for dealing with mental health or substance abuse problems, Here to Help's checklist can be very useful when trying to find a group that will work for you.
Surround yourself with positive people. The quickest way to getting the support you need is making sure you have the right people in your inner circle. In its article on the topic,MindBodyGreen.com points out that this may require some soul searching on your part. For example, before you can attract positive people, you have to know what you value most and what shape you'd like your life to take.
Get back in touch with your spiritual side. As you make the most of your new independence, it may be a good time to get in touch with your spiritual side. In itsTaking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing section, the University of Minnesota educates readers about spirituality:
- What is Spirituality?
- Why is Spirituality Important?
- Seven Spiritual Needs
- Develop Your Spiritual Resources.
- Find Out More about Spirituality.
- Take the Assessment.
- Create a Goal.
Focus on friendships. As you transition into this new stage of your life, your friends will be invaluable. They'll provide a shoulder to cry on and be there to help you celebrate new successes. Mayo Clinic explains the health benefits of strong friendships and offers advice on how to meet new people and form strong bonds.