Recent Widow Finds It Difficult To Move On: A Boomer & Echo Financial Makeover

Sandra Kaplan is at a crossroads. After a lengthy illness and disability, her husband Ted has passed away, leaving Sandra unsure of what to do now.

Sandra, 59, had previously worked in sales at a national media company. While she received an above average salary, bonuses, and generous benefits, the job was demanding and required long hours and frequent travel.

Fifteen years ago, Ted was in a major traffic accident that left him partially disabled. Further health complications made it difficult for him to find suitable work thereafter.

Related: Unexpected costs threaten to ruin their finances

Sandra left her sales job and took a less desirable administrative job at a small landscaping company. The pay is much less than she was previously receiving but the company allowed her a very flexible schedule so she could take her husband for necessary medical treatments.

Because of their reduced income – Ted received CPP disability benefits – the Kaplans lived a very frugal lifestyle. Their three-bedroom home is mortgage-free and they had no other debts, but neither did they have much savings. Most of the savings they did have was used to pay funeral and other final expenses.

With her life consumed with caring for Ted’s needs, Sandra lost her work-related network and became isolated from her social network. With Ted’s recent death she finds herself with no one to turn to for comfort and advice.

Sandra has no specific goals at present. She just wants to know in which direction she should start moving.


  • Personal residence – $400,000
  • LIRA – $160,000
  • Savings – $1,200
  • Auto – $12,000


  • None

Here’s what she can do: 

  1. Sell the family home: Sandra no longer has the inclination to take care of a large home. She should sell. After expenses she could net around $360,000 to $375,000 depending on the sale price. She could rent an apartment and invest the proceeds, but rents in her city are quite high. Since monthly cash flow might be limited, it may be more appropriate to use part of the proceeds to purchase a condo, perhaps in a plus-fifty complex. She should look for a property outside the city core that would be less expensive and still have nearby amenities. The remaining money could top-up her savings and 5-year laddered GICs for future requirements. She should open a TFSA and contribute the maximum ($41,000) allowed.
  1. Pension Income: Next year Sandra will be able to convert her locked-in RRSP to a LRIF if she desires. She could supplement her income by about $400 – $500 a month with these proceeds. But, she will receive a small survivor pension right away. If she waits until age 65 before making her withdrawals and collects CPP and OAS benefits, she would still qualify for GIS payments and would just about replace her current income.
  1. Join a club: Sandra should join a seniors club, and/or any other clubs or groups that may be of interest to her. She needs to rediscover the interests she used to enjoy or try new activities and find like-minded people. There are clubs for any activity imaginable and most welcome new members and beginners. Seniors clubs also have many resources and, if Sandra wants to upgrade or learn new skills, she could take adult education courses and perhaps seek more desirable employment.

Final thoughts 

When a mature person loses a spouse it can be very easy to slip into isolation leading to withdrawal and depression. This will be especially true for Sandra if she quits her current job, which she has been thinking about. Even though she finds the job somewhat boring, she likes and gets on well with her co-workers.

Related: Changing careers midlife – Is it worth it?

Building a fulfilling social life can help Sandra enjoy a more meaningful life. She may feel uncomfortable at first, but if she is open in pursuing new activities and knowledge she will soon get back into the rhythm of meeting new friends. She already lives a frugal lifestyle, but many activities have little or no cost and she should be able to maintain her current income in the future.

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  1. Todd Roberts on August 7, 2015 at 6:53 am

    It’s too bad that funeral costs and final expenses weren’t covered by a modest life insurance policy. Assuming he was about Sandra’s age and was healthy before the accident, a $100,000 20 year term policy bought at age 45 would probably have cost less than $30/mth. That would have been $7,000 well spent and alleviated a lot of the financial stress on Sandra. Group life coverage is not sufficient. Stuff happens to healthy people. The insurance premium is a small price to pay for peace of mind if death does not happen young, and for substantial financial relief if it does.

  2. Tricia Willis on August 7, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Would Sandra consider becoming a landlord? I’m a big fam of real estate as an investment (depending on the city and market of course).

    I would like to see Sandra work out what she could get in rent for her 3 bedroom house, and whether that would provide enough income to cover the costs of a rental apt for herself. She may also be able to consider borrowing a portion of the value of the house, and use that as a downpayment on a condo. Yes her assesta are then locked in and there is some work involved in the upkeep of properties, but the appreciation of real estate in some markets make this an attractive option.

    Sandra can sell of her property at any time in the future, and she would need to work out the tax implicatons on the rental income to make sure she can break even on the cashflow.

    • Kathy Your Net Worth Manager on August 7, 2015 at 9:55 am

      I was a landlord in my 30’s. we rented a home so we could move and i think there is a lot of difference renting a loved family home with memories to some one who may trash it or just not love it like you did and being a professional landlord.
      i am not sure i would want to deal with tenants in my retirement. you can pay an agency but we had one shut down and run off with rent before passing it to us. People try use security deposit as last month rent etc. They all want 100% quick service if washing machine leaks but don’t cut the grass

      sorry to be negative sometimes its not just the math that matters

  3. David on August 7, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    How about selling the house, buying a smaller place fully paid up and then if she hasn’t enough income take a CHIP on a monthly basis which is tax free income and become a SKI IF APPLICABLE (spending the kids inheritance SKI)
    Just a thought……………..

  4. Sean Cooper, Financial Journalist on August 7, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    Drawing down your retirement nest egg in a tax efficient manner can be challenging. I’d recommend reading the Retirement Income Blueprint by Neil Diamond. It’s a great read.

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