Deciding whether to move out of your house upon becoming a widow is a personal decision and should take into account many factors, as discussed below. However, we often recommend taking time to make this decision for a few reasons. First, the grieving process takes time and may cause you to make decisions that you would not have otherwise made. Second, considering your different options – and experiencing those options – may help provide clarity.
Principles in Deciding Whether to Move
Before we look at some factors, you may want to keep the following principles in mind in making such a decision.
- Nothing is permanent. You can always change your mind if it is not what you want, or you can intentionally decide that the next move is not necessarily long-term.
- Don’t make a hasty decision. While I just stated that a re-do can be done, from an emotional, time, and cost perspective, it will be wise to think through all of the issues before a decision is made.
- It won’t be perfect because it is different. Keep in mind that you may have had the exact situation you had always wanted. Your home with your spouse was your Camelot. While the grieving process and getting support will allow you to turn the corner and look to the future with hope, things will never be exactly the same. This does not mean that happiness will be elusive, but rather looking for perfection in your new environment is a tough hurdle to jump.
- Recreate a similar environment. If you do move homes, you will obviously want to keep the memory of your spouse alive. While this will also include pictures and various keepsakes as decoration, you may also want to keep as much of the furniture as possible in your new surroundings.
- Run it by others. Throw out ideas to friends and family members to get their thoughts. They may come up with considerations or ideas that you did not think about.
Regardless of when you decide whether to move, you have two overriding decisions on whether to move. Do you stay in the same general area (neighborhood, town)? Do you stay in the same home?
Let’s say you are deciding whether to stay in the same town, there are several factors that could play into your decision of whether to move. Some of these factors include the following:
What is your support network?
Often times, this support network factor is the most critical. If you have adult children or grandchildren in another city, all else equal, moving to be near them may be especially beneficial. Of course, all of the other factors need to line up as well. If the city they live in is too costly for your finances or if the weather is just too downright cold for you, then moving may not be wise. Having a frank discussion with them will be important. If they tell you that their careers will likely make them transient over the next several years, then you may not want to make the move. If they live in a city that is way too costly in light of your finances, then a move may not be wise unless there are surrounding areas that fit your finances while still providing the benefits of being “close enough” to your family.
If you have children in different parts of the country, then you may have to choose. While it is never fun having to choose between children, the other practical factors may weigh heavily in favor of one over the other. Consider whether you can live in multiple places – whether on a permanent basis (e.g., two homes or condos for those that can afford it), semi-permanent basis (home in one city, home sharing like Airbnb in another) or living in the home of one child on an interval basis and a permanent home in the other city. Think about the age of the grandchildren, the church they attend (is it the same denomination that you like to attend?), the activities they enjoy, etc.
While the city that your child or children live in is the most natural consideration, you may also consider the resident city of your siblings or a long-term close friend. Perhaps your sibling is in a similar situation as you,
Also, don’t forget the role technology can play. You may be in the ideal spot other than the fact that your support network may be slightly “better” in another city. With the use of virtual technology, you may be able to get the kind of support you need right from your tablet or computer. Don’t be afraid to use this and encourage your support network to use this technology as well.
How does a move impact your finances?
This can cut both ways. It may well be the case that moving to another city may not make sense financially if the cost of living is quite a bit more in the new environment (e.g., moving from Murfreesboro to San Francisco where your child works). However, merely because your child lives in San Diego does not mean that you cannot move to a nearby, lower cost, part of San Diego and still benefit from being close to your child’s family. Put your ideal on paper. Your financial planner should then be able to help you provide clarity on what is possible and/or get creative on making a move a reality.
How does this impact your career?
If you are still working, this will obviously be an important issue from both a financial aspect but also from a support network aspect. Your co-workers may be close friends and they may become especially closer and more helpful during widowhood. However, you may find your new situation as an opportunity to look for work in another city. While you will likely not want to make a career or job change right away as both the death of a loved one and a job change can be stressful in and of themselves, you may find yourself suddenly able to pursue that specialized career you always wanted if you were able to move to a city that needed your skills and background.
What kind of lifestyle do you want?
Does your current town provide the type of culture you like, or would you rather experience something different? If you are in a town without heavy arts and you have always wanted to experience more of that type of culture, then perhaps that is just one reason to move towns. If you move to a city where you don't initially know many people, having activities that you enjoy may allow you to otherwise be more active and thus provide the ability to naturally meet more people.
What kind of weather do you prefer?
Having the “right type” of weather is often a major consideration in retirement. Similarly, it may be important during widowhood. If you find yourself in a city that your spouse’s career brought you to despite your dislike of the climate, perhaps you take a step back and consider what your ideal weather is really like.
Considerations Upon Living in the Same Town
Deciding which town or parts of the country to live in is one consideration. If you know you want to stay in the same town, you may still need to decide whether to stay in your same home or to move to another home. Some of these same factors come into play, albeit at a slightly different context:
- Support Network. If you are staying in the same general area, then your support network may already be solid. However, you may find yourself leaning more heavily on your adult children during widowhood or you may start to begin thinking about your longer-term needs as you age. If your adult children are in the same general area but far enough away to make it difficult to see them, then moving closer to them may be wise. Having your children close by in times of emergency may be helpful. Also, just being closer may allow each of you to more readily see each other and be involved in each other’s lives. The practical effect of not having to travel extensively to be with your children can save you time, be safer, and reduce the costs (read – less gas!). Of course, the location of your job and church family may override the need to be close to your family.
- Finances. Of course, one major consideration is whether you can still afford the home you are living in. If you are already retired and finances are secure, then this may be less of an issue. Even if you can still afford the home, you may decide that downsizing may offer you the ability to spend money on other things or may provide more financial cushion during retirement. Selling the home, buying a less expensive home, and putting the net proceeds in a portfolio may provide more cushion or otherwise a better lifestyle for you. Financial choices always have trade-offs and housing costs are a major expense that impacts other decisions. Your financial planner should be able to provide various what-if analysis on this decision.
- Lifestyle. Your lifestyle may not change after your spouse’s passing. However, you may decide that both now and/or for the long-term that you may want to make changes to your lifestyle. For example, would you rather live in a more walkable neighborhood? Or, do you prefer the social aspects that a large condo environment may provide. Moreover, a condo may provide a safer environment than a home in a more isolated area.
- Maintenance. Perhaps you live in a larger home and your spouse and you just never felt the need or got around to downsizing after your children moved away. Now may be a time to revisit your options to downsize. Would you prefer not to have to maintain a yard or ensure the gutters are cleaned out? If so, a condo may be a better alternative. If you otherwise decide to stay in your home, but just are concerned about the maintenance, do not feel afraid about getting an assessment done on your home and determine if hiring professionals, as needed, will provide adequate support for you.
While a decision on whether to move out of your home should not generally be made too quickly, you should lay out your options and review the pros and cons in a thoughtful manner. Be willing to get feedback from friends and family as well as your financial planner. And, remember, your next move does not have to be your last.