I have nothing. My husband of 37 years filed for divorce, and I have nothing. I felt like we always seemed to have money, but apparently not. He says I’ll receive about $50,000 of his retirement account, but that’s it. I make $48,000 per year, and I have the option of keeping the house. Our children are grown, and the house is way too big for me. My friends keep telling me to live there because there’s no mortgage, but the house is older and will eventually need significant repairs. If I sell, my husband and I split the money. I’ve never dealt with finances before. He’s always done it. I don’t know what to do, and my friends keep give me conflicting advice. I’m not even sure if I want to use a lawyer. How will I ever retire? — Nancy, Knoxville
Dear Nancy: It’s going to be OK.
Your financial life will undoubtedly be much different, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For one, you will never be in the dark again. You will need to rebuild your financial life from the ground up. And while that sounds terrifying, if done correctly, it’s empowering.
Your emotions are likely running high, which isn’t great for making financial decisions. If you have particular friends who tend to spark the emotional flames, avoid them. You can indulge in those complicated conversations once you take care of business. Sadly, I’ve seen many divorcees waste valuable time and money by entering an echo chamber of negativity.
Don’t misconstrue this as legal advice, but you need an attorney. By your own admission, you haven’t dealt with money in nearly four decades. You thought you had money, but you don’t, and a mortgage-free home is being dangled in front of you. An attorney will provide experience to walk you through the particulars.
From what you have shared with me, keeping your home could be a disaster. It’s great it’s paid off, but if the home is too big — thus expensive to heat, cool and maintain — then you’re better off selling and taking the money. Besides, your new financial life will be built on your income and your income alone. You can select a home that will be affordable by your income’s standard. You probably aren’t going to feel like you have money. But that’s OK. You felt like you had money before, and that got you nowhere.
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