The first year of widowhood is a confusing and stressful time as the bereaved woman struggles to cope with the enormous changes in her life.
The experience of “brain lock” is very real in the early stages of widowhood, according to Kathleen Rehl, owner of Rehl Financial Advisors in Land O’ Lakes, Fla. She recalls how hard it was for her to make simple decisions after her own husband died of cancer several years ago. “There’s shock and confusion,” Rehl says. “I couldn’t remember where I’d put my car keys.”
Financial advisors can be of invaluable assistance at this time, acting as educators and “thinking partners.” Here are some tips to help you guide widows through those difficult early months:
> Be an educator
Rhonda Sherwood, a Vancouver-based wealth advisor with Scotia McLeod, says she spends a lot of time educating her newly widowed clients about financial matters.
“In many cases, the husband handled the couple’s finances so we spend time talking about how to budget, save and manage money,” Sherwood says. “A widow needs to become comfortable with that before making any big changes. Eventually we get around to her power of attorney and will and revisit her investment accounts. But that’s usually six months to a year down the road.”
> Act as her “thinking partner”
A new widow doesn’t want you to tell her what to do, Rehl says. Your job is to help her make decisions that are right for her and her family.
“Drop the fancy charts and financial jargon and talk in everyday language about her situation, including her values, needs and goals,” Rehl says. “Provide a written summary of your meetings, noting a few action items that both of you need to do immediately, in the near future and later on.”
> Offer grief resources
Rather than handing only financial information to your widowed client, consider giving her books on grieving, Rehl says.
Encourage her to participate in grief classes or support groups offered by local hospices, church groups or online resources. Support websites such as www.griefshare.org may also be valuable.
Helpful books include “Widow to Widow: Thoughtful, Practical Ideas for Rebuilding Your Life” by Genevieve Davis Ginsburg; “For Widows Only!” by Annie Estlund; and Rehl’s own guide, “Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows.”
The effort you make to help your widowed clients is well worth it. Women are very loyal and make great referral sources, so there’s a high probability that you’ll keep your existing clients and gain new ones as a result.
This is the second part in a two-part series on working with widows.