Time, trust and an advisor who returns calls.
Sandy takes out her checkbook and points to an entry halfway down the page.
"You see what I did here? I was supposed to add in $5,100 and I wrote $51,000. Now, all these numbers are wrong," she says with disgust. "I don't know what I'm doing with this stuff."
Sandy, 62, says she's always been afraid of numbers. And reading maps. And getting lost in the car, driving to the airport, learning new things on the computer, and checking the air in the tires of her Lexus.
It didn't seem to matter because her husband took care of all that. Until recently. Two years ago, her husband was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Ten months later, he was dead, leaving Sandy with well over $1 million, sprinkled across two dozen bank and brokerage accounts, CDs, bonds, trusts and real estate investments. It was all neatly organized in a system of folders, statements and charts that only the creator of that system could understand. She's had a year to decipher everything, and she still can't tell you whether her net worth is closer to $1 million or $2 million.
"He said I want you to understand all this stuff in case anything ever happens to me. I said, 'Nothing's ever going to happen to you,'" Sandy says. She sighs. "As long as we had the money to do the things we wanted to do, and I had a little pocket money, I was happy. That's all I had to know."
Sandy is no different than her widowed friends Honey, Doris and Harriet, women whose names betray their generation and whose last names were withheld at their request. These women aren't baby boomers, who raised children while cultivating a career and balancing a checkbook on the tip of their nose. They're women of the 1940s and 1950s. The only entry on their resumes is homemaker. Ask them what a hedge fund is and they'll look toward the shrubs in the garden.
Women in their sixties and seventies may not be as savvy as their younger counterparts, but they're smart enough to fire their dead husband's advisor if he's not meeting their needs. And their needs go beyond solid returns on their portfolios. They want someone they can lean on, like they leaned on their husbands, someone they can trust, someone who will ask them if they've lost more weight. And mean it.
Advisors may also be required to scale a wall of skepticism as high as the moon. Honey, 70, says she's read so many stories in the newspaper about scams perpetrated on widows and senior citizens that she trusts no one with her finances. She has no trouble making financial decisions. She simply says no.
"It could all sound very good to me, but I'd be afraid to take a chance," Honey says. "I'm a very suspicious person when it comes to things I don't know anything about." Investing clearly falls into that category.
Harriet, 68, says she used to have a financial advisor-the one her husband used for years. But shortly after husband died two-and-a-half years ago, the stock market tanked and she asked the advisor to sell all her stocks. When he told her to wait, she dumped the advisor along with her stocks and was content to take a loss.