Working with grieving clients

When clients lose a loved one, especially their spouse, their emotions can be overwhelming. They may be left alone to cope with their financial and social responsibilities, which can be especially challenging if their loss is unexpected.

While financial advisors are not grief counsellors, you can play an important role in making grieving clients feel comfortable about their perceived financial challenges. You can be a calming influence for clients whose judgment might be clouded by emotions, says Tina Jakma, an advisor with T. Jakma Financial in Thornhill, Ont.

Drawing on the real-life experience of a client whose wife was killed in an accident, Jakma says that grief can be accompanied by denial and anger, which can make dealing with clients even more challenging. In this case, Jakma’s client was planning to retire in a few years, and losing his wife suddenly turned his world upside-down. He was angry and had difficulty accepting her death.

“Take the time to look at what their future will look like without their spouse,”” Jakma says. “Give them confidence [that they will be all right financially.]”

Do not rush into making any major financial decisions or changes with a grieving client, she adds. “Emotions will play a big part in their decisions.”

Jakma offers the following suggestions for helping your clients in times of grief:

> Let clients speak openly
People cope with grief in different ways, and some are more emotional than others. Let clients tell you how they feel about their loss and express their emotions. You will get a chance to learn about their fears and expectations regarding living without their partner and you will be able to formulate a way to help them. Show empathy and express words of comfort when appropriate.

> Wait before making decisions
Grieving clients should not make any major changes in the first year following a loss, Jakma says. This policy avoids any emotionally driven decisions and gives clients time to think about their next steps while overcoming their grief.

Look at your clients’ short-term financial needs and assist them in dealing with any financial issues such as insurance proceeds resulting from the loss of their spouse, and other estate planning issues. The key is to prioritize issues that need urgent attention. “You don’t want to overwhelm them with issues that can wait,” Jakma says.

> Be a voice of reason
One of the biggest fears among grieving clients is outliving their money. You have to be a voice of reason and look at their situation objectively. You can analyze their situation and show them their options.

Refer to their financial plan as a starting point, Jakma says, and develop a new plan that considers their new circumstances as a widow or widower. Clients often deal with their grief better when you give them the confidence that they can cope financially in spite of their loss.

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