Facing the death of a spouse is one of the most traumatic life events for anyone to face. And for more and more women, losing their husbands has become even more traumatic, as they may also lose their houses. According to the New York Times, a “growing group of homeowners–widows over the age of 50 whose husbands alone were holders of the mortgage–are losing their homes to foreclosure.”
Why are middle-aged and elderly widows being pushed out of their homes? Much of this disturbing trend has to do with a paperwork glitch, which makes it difficult or impossible for widows to apply for loan modifications, since their names aren’t on the mortgages. In some cases, banks won’t even allow widows to make payments on the mortgage at all, causing them to fall thousands of dollars into debt.
The fate of a house or mortgage may be even more uncertain when blended families are involved. If the woman whose spouse has passed away is a second or third wife, she may have to deal with expectations about what to do with the house from her husband’s children. If her name isn’t on the mortgage, ownership issues can get sticky. Combine this with the still-present prejudice of banks against women, and it can (and does) turn into a tough situations for many widows.
What You Can Do To Help
If you have a close friend or family member who is facing the situation that plagues thousands of widows across the country, here are a few things you can do to help a loved one get her affairs in order and hang onto her house.
1. Get Organized. Help her track down all correspondence and statements related to the mortgage, going back as far as possible. You’ll need all this paperwork when you talk to the bank.
2. Make an Appointment. If necessary, call the bank and set up an appointment with a loan counselor. Sometimes it can be intimidating for older people to call someone they don’t know on the phone, and if you leave it up to her, it may never get done.
3. Take Her to the Appointment. Offer to drive her to the bank and come into the appointment–or just wait outside for moral support. Make sure that she has all the relevant mortgage documents as well as her personal documents, like a driver’s license.
4. Step in if Necessary. If you feel that your loved one is being ignored or mistreated, don’t be afraid to step in and speak up to help her get what she needs and deserves.
5. Provide Moral Support. The most important thing you can do is offer your help and be there for her when she needs you — and step away when she doesn’t. Anyone who has recently lost their spouse is feeling very alone in the world, and she will appreciate knowing that someone is looking out for her.
How to Avoid Facing This Situation
The best way for women to protect themselves from facing foreclosure after their spouse dies is to have their name on the mortgage from the very beginning. Make an effort to be involved in all decisions regarding your joint finances and the home that you share. Life is unpredictable, so be proactive, prepared and informed.
Photo credit: andreaslindmark