Suze Orman
Photo: Robert Trachtenberg
Q: My husband passed away eight months ago, leaving me $400,000 in life insurance to supplement my income from an annuity and Social Security (I'm 65). We owed $207,000 on our home, and I paid that down to $27,000. I invested another $200,000—my financial adviser has me in a 60 percent bond, 40 percent stock mix. Should I use some of that money to pay off my home?
I am so sorry for your loss. And I'm concerned that you're making major decisions right now. After a loved one's death, we're often too raw to do so with clarity.

Paying down your mortgage seems to make sense: You want security. But can you pay most of the property tax and general maintenance with your monthly income? If not, downsizing could be a better move. Dipping into your savings here and there is fine, but you don't want to deplete your investment portfolio too quickly.

Now about that portfolio—is the stock portion invested in stocks or exchange-traded funds that pay dividends? Dividend payers are a smart choice for retirees. You get income today, and the companies that pay those dividends should do well over time, which can carry you through the years to come. You should also have a diversified portfolio of high-quality individual bonds.

I sense that you've left it to your financial adviser to handle these decisions. He may be wonderfully capable, but no adviser will ever care about your money as much as you do. So in a few months, make it a priority to better understand your investments. The more you know about what your money is doing for you, the more secure you'll feel.

Suze Orman's most recent book is her Action Plan: New Rules for New Times (Spiegel & Grau).

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Please note: This is general information and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with your own financial advisor before making any major financial decisions, including investments or changes to your portfolio, and a qualified legal professional before executing any legal documents or taking any legal action. Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities are not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your financial or legal decisions.

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