Financial advisors face a serious communications problem that could cost them clients when they deal with only one person in a couple, a new study by TIAA-CREF says.

Advisors are putting their businesses at risk when a partner dies or a relationship ends if the advisor has not established good communications with the survivor, according to the TIAA-CREF's Asset Management Survey released Thursday. The study examined the intentions and actions of both married and unmarried couples with regard to communicating about their finances.

Couples account for over half of a typical financial advisor’s client base, yet 44 percent of couples assign just one partner to handle their advisor relationships, the study says. Seventy percent of women leave their advisor within one year of being widowed.

“The ‘couples conundrum’ translates into real risks for financial advisors,” says Jennifer Pedigo, managing director and head of institutional business development at TIAA-CREF Asset Management.  “Despite their best efforts to work with both members of a couple, advisors often do not have adequate insights into the remaining spouse to serve him or her as effectively as possible in the event of a major life transition. It’s critical that advisors are able to make a real connection with both partners.”

Sixty percent of those surveyed say one partner makes the financial decisions and 41 percent say only one partner decided who to hire as an advisor.

“Advisors should start by explaining at the annual review that it is important for both partners to understand finances and to know who to contact in case of an emergency,” says Pedigo.