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Source: Kristy Archuleta, 785-532-1474,
News release prepared by: Greg Tammen, 785-532-6415,

Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010


MANHATTAN -- Losing a spouse can be one of the most trying and emotional periods in an individual's life. However, as staff at the Kansas State University Financial Therapy Clinic are discovering, what may be just as trying for individuals is dealing with the financial situation a loved one leaves behind.

Since opening its doors in late January 2009, one of the primary functions of the Financial Therapy Clinic has been to help provide public outreach by assisting with financial dilemmas through a blend of financial planning, relationship therapy and psychological therapy. Despite a diverse group of clientele, though, clinic staff have recently seen a number of divorced or widowed women in their 50s and 60s, said Kristy Archuleta, co-director of K-State's Financial Therapy Clinic and assistant professor in the K-State School of Family Studies and Human Services.

"They've found themselves working with money for sometimes the very first time, since their husband might have handled the finances before his death," Archuleta said. "In some cases, they're just now finding out that they didn't plan well and they find themselves looking for help. Most of them are in a position where they cannot work for the rest of their lives, and we have to look at how to get them to the point at which they can retire."

Coupled with gathering information about their spouse's estate, Archuleta said the process is a mentally and emotionally grueling one since often emotions and relationships are intermingled with finances and feelings of how money should be handled.

"Not only are they dealing with the loss of a spouse, which can take one to two years, but they are also dealing with this overwhelming sense of anxiety from not knowing where things are financially. This can make it really difficult to make good financial decisions" she said.

Talking about finances with a spouse can be just as tough, though, Archuleta said. In many cases, especially with individuals who may not have been actively involved in the household's finances, talking about the subject with their partner may seem taboo.

If a couple has refrained from talking about money for a number of years, a relationship dynamic is formed between the individuals, and a spouse may therefore not feel comfortable approaching the subject of finances for a number of reasons, one of which may be fear, Archuleta said.

"But questions should be asked," she said. "The best way is to have an open conversation about the financial situation and where important documents are kept. It's really difficult for people to talk about issues, like estate planning, because it's inevitable that one spouse will pass on, so people skirt around it because it's painful. But by doing this, the surviving spouse is left in a worse position because they weren't involved in the day-to-day planning and do not understand their own financial situation."

To help with the discussion, Archuleta said direct questions should be asked, and the location of important financial documents should be discussed. She also encouraged couples to visit reputable online resources such as the AARP Web site at for a list of discussion points.

Archuleta also provided some financial tips for older individuals, including the following:

*Know where the important financial documents are kept, like bank funds, mutual funds and brokerage holdings, a safe deposit box, home mortgage, Social Security benefits, 401(k) and IRAs, life insurance policies, and retirement and annuity benefits.

*Ask questions. "And, ask lots of questions to lots of different people," Archuleta said. This includes your financial planner, your attorney, your accountant, your tax preparer, your friends and family. "Widows can make easy targets for scams, so it's important to talk to others and gather lots of information," she said.

*Research and read what financial terms and policies mean. The more you understand, the easier it will be to gain a grasp on the finances, Archuleta said.

*Know where the money is going. "If you go get a coffee with your friends, that's a couple of dollars there. If you go to a garage sale, that's a couple of dollars there; you may end up spending more than you think you are" Archuleta said. "You have to know where your money is going. It can be very tedious, but it's very eye-opening."

*Finally, Archuleta said, it is never too early to start planning for the future death of a spouse.

According to a 2000 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, 32 percent of women aged 55 and older are widowed -- a greater percent than that of women who are married and living with their spouses. Among men in the same age group, only 9 percent are widowed. The report stated nearly 700,000 women will lose their husbands each year, and will remain widows for an average of 14 years.

Faculty at K-State's Financial Therapy Clinic may be contacted by phone at 785-320-7636 or by e-mail at The clinic is open to the public on Mondays and Wednesdays and Thursday mornings.

For more information about the clinic, visit