Establishing a relationship with your client’s spouse is essential in retaining clients, according to Paulette Filion, partner with Strategy Marketing in Toronto. Many women, for example, will leave their financial advisor after their husband’s death, she says, if the advisor had not made the effort to develop a relationship beforehand.

Many advisors make the assumption that they will automatically retain the deceased client’s assets and send the necessary paperwork to the client’s widow. The advisor might even call the widow in to explain how he or she operates their business. Making such an assumption is a big mistake that will only push the widow away, Filion says.

“If you have no relationship with the wife and you sort of swoop in when the husband dies,” Filion says, “it looks like it’s just all about the money. The advisor looks like he just wants to keep the account.”

The key is developing rapport with your client’s spouse early on, even if she is less involved with financial decisions. Then, if a death does occur, there’s already a process in place, and it becomes easier for the advisory team to jump into action, says Judy Paradi, partner at Strategy Marketing.

Here are five tips for assisting widows after a spouse has passed:

1. Show sensitivity toward the grieving process
It’s important to understand grief and be sensitive to the feelings your widowed client may be experiencing. Statistics Canada reports that the average Canadian female widow is 56, Paradi says, so you should prepare for what may inevitably be, unfortunately, a common occurrence.

Build your knowledge on the subject by reading online articles or books on grief, or even picking up pamphlets from a funeral home, Filion says. These can provide valuable insight into the stages of grief a widow may be experiencing.

2. Be sincere
When offering your condolences, avoid sounding like a store-bought sympathy card. Instead, Filion says, you should position yourself as an important resource who is invested in the financial and general wellbeing of your clients.

Sayings such as, “I’m sorry to hear that” or “You have my sympathies,” can sound superficial, Filion says. Instead, you might say, “I can’t imagine what it’s like for you.”

3. Listen
Encourage the recently widowed to talk at length about their deceased partner. Don’t stop or interrupt them. Instead, try using comments such as “tell me more,” which has been shown to reduce stress for women, Paradi says.

4. Make a genuine offer to help
Provide support by asking specifically how you can help the widow or her family, Filion says. Having developed a rapport before her husband’s death, you will be in a good position to offer valuable help.

You also will be able to make meaningful contributions to the family. For example, if you know the widow loves to spend time in her garden, you could send over a plant as a condolence gift. “Do nothing less than what you would for a friend,” Filion says.

5. Provide peace of mind
Reassure the widow that you’ll do whatever it takes to relieve any financial stress, Paradi says. Offer her as much time as she may need, and let her know that you’ll keep her posted on any important matters affecting the family’s financial accounts.