Learning the special needs of widowed clients can improve your client service and client retention.

As a financial advisor, you should care about your clients and want to be there to assist them throughout their whole lives, says Bev Moir, a senior wealth advisor with ScotiaMcLeod Inc. in Toronto. As well, building a relationship with a client before his or her spouse dies reduces the chance of the surviving spouse switching to a new advisor.

Follow these tips to best meet the needs of widowed clients:

> Get to know them
Make sure you have developed a relationship with the client before he or she becomes widowed. That means making a point of meeting all your clients’ spouses.

There will almost always be one spouse who takes a more active role in finances than the other, Moir says. You should try to engage the less-involved spouse at least once a year, for example, at the annual meeting. As well, take the time to chat if you should happen to catch the non-involved spouse on the phone or through a chance personal encounter.

That way, the client will be less inclined to move the account to another advisor if the more involved spouse die.

> Be empathetic
When a client loses a spouse, the most important thing is to express sympathy.

“You have to be sensitive to their situation,” says Moir, “and empathetic in terms of what they’re feeling.”

Without appearing insensitive, try to put a positive spin on the situation by reminding the client that widowhood is a new beginning.

> Anticipate questions
Newly widowed clients may not feel comfortable asking questions, Moir says. Or they may not even know what to ask.

As an advisor, you must be proactive in providing clients with the information they need — for both the immediate future and the long term.

As well, especially during the first few meetings, Moir suggests, give the recently widowed client notes on your conversations. The client may not understand or remember the discussion because of their grief.

> Talk about the future
Discuss what the widowed client’s life will look like.

Talk to the client about the financial implications of aging and living alone, says Moir.

> Update the estate plan
Talk to your widowed clients about their estate plans.

Estate planning for widowed clients is more complex because there is no longer the option of a tax-free rollover of funds in registered plans from one spouse to the other, says Moir. Now, the clients will need to think of how to move their assets efficiently to the next generation or to charities.

As well, remind the client to update his or her power of attorney.