Being left solely responsible for wealth through divorce or widowhood later in life comes with its own set of responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges. As with so many financial life events, it is often the emotional challenges that are the hardest.
1. Loneliness: Perhaps one of the most debilitating consequences is loneliness. Anyone who is newly divorced or widowed experiences the pain of navigating life alone after being part of a couple, and the addition of sudden money can bring its own form of isolation. Money can separate you even from people you care about. Family members or friends may resent your financial status or expect financial help. You may feel obligated to give to them out of guilt or shame. It may feel impossible to fully confide in even close friends who may now have less wealth than you do.
Finding new friends or, eventually, potential romantic partners also has its risks. Some may feel intimidated by your financial situation and others may look to exploit it.
2. Financial Exploitation: Wealthy single women can be prime targets for both outright scammers and individuals seeking to take advantage of their financial resources. The challenge is to be vigilant in protecting yourself without isolating yourself out of fear. These suggestions may be helpful:
- Guard your privacy and limit what you share about your financial circumstances.
- Be cautious about making rapid, drastic changes in your lifestyle.
- Focus on maintaining connections with friends and family that are not based on money.
- Find a trustworthy fee-only, no-commissions, fiduciary financial planner.
- Build your financial knowledge and money management skills.
- Pay attention to your own intuition, judgment, and common sense.
3. Biases and Stereotypes—Including Your Own: Finding yourself single and wealthy in midlife may trigger stereotyping from others as well as from within yourself. These might include biased assumptions like the following:
- You didn’t earn your money and don’t deserve it (particularly if it was inherited).
- You are a “gold digger” (particularly after a divorce).
- Your life must be easy because you have money, so you’d better not complain.
- You aren’t capable of finding professionals you can trust.
- You do not deserve to be taken seriously.
4. Societal Expectations and Judgments: Society often places demanding expectations on middle-aged women, especially those who are financially well-off. It may be assumed that you will share with family members, charities, and others who may need help. You may encounter resentment and envy. You may be seen as so fortunate and privileged that you have an obligation to give generously to worthy causes.
5. Finding Purpose: The end of a coupleship, whether through divorce or the death of a partner, may leave you struggling to find or regain a sense of purpose. Rediscovering purpose and meaning may involve some introspective personal work to explore your emotions, money scripts, fears, and hopes. It is also important to give yourself time to grieve and adjust. The last thing you need is to heap shame and guilt on yourself with the idea that you “should” find a purpose and do something meaningful with the money. Eventually you can come to appreciate the way your financial resources can help you support your own dreams, use your abilities and your voice in positive ways, and give to others in your own way out of gratitude rather than guilt.
As I wrote last week, being left solely responsible for wealth can be both a blessing and a burden. Consciously accepting and adapting to your new reality can help you manage the burden and appreciate the blessing. Then you can make full use of your financial resources to live a richly meaningful and fulfilling life.