If you’re good with your client’s finances, but do not know what to say to her when she is grieving, she will find someone else who is also good with finances but does know what to say, warns Amy Florian, an author and grief educator for advisors.
Florian has a personal history with grief. At the age of 25, she lost her husband in a car accident shortly after their first child was born. She’s author of the book No Longer Awkward: Communicating With Clients Through The Toughest Times of Life, and is the CEO of Corgenius, an educational and counseling firm located outside Chicago that helps advisors deal with clients facing loss or anguish.
“The first thing an advisor needs to be aware of is the more deeply the client is grieving, the more her brain is being flooded with cortisol and the less she can think,” Florian says.
“If you can walk people through the toughest time of their lives, you will have a client for life, and you will have their family and friends, too.”
An advisor should make sure a grieving client’s money is safe and that it is being neither hoarded nor wasted. Investments should be reviewed and changed if necessary. Even though it’s difficult, clients may also need to take immediate action after losing a loved one because there may be a life insurance policy, a trust or an inheritance in play.
But it is OK to tell a client to wait to make most decisions, Florian says. “Check in with the grieving client regularly; don’t expect her to call you. Tell her to bring any proposals for new investments to you to review. You are her advocate during this time.”
Sarah Mouser, a director of financial planning at Cassaday & Co. in Northern Virginia, agrees.
“Help the client do what they have to, but let everything else go for a while,” Mouser says. “Update beneficiaries, make sure the client has a core income stream and then let the client know you are there to hold her hand during this grieving time.”
Alina Lee, another Cassaday & Co. director, says that even positive events can trigger grief. When a client downsizes a home or retires, she might be grieving for what she has left behind.
“Grief comes in many forms: death, divorce, loss of a job,” says Victoria Tomaro, founder of the Tomaro Financial Group in Wall Township, N.J. “I tell clients that when something happens, after they tell their family, I am the next person they should call.”