Like many financial planners, I’ve read that the average widow changes financial planners within a year of her husband’s death. Usually it has nothing to do with the planner’s competency but rather a lack of communication and listening skills.

When it comes to loss, losing a spouse to death is second only to losing a child. Yes, it’s tough losing a parent, getting a divorce (which is a death without a body) or losing a job. But these things are generally not as life altering and crushingly final as burying a spouse.

A spouse’s death, whether it’s expected or not, is both emotionally devastating and paralyzing.

There are many women who understand their finances and are perfectly capable of handling them without assistance. When I got married, I didn’t know what the differences were between stocks and bonds or mutual funds. From my experience as a financial planner, I see many more women who are perfectly capable of learning about finance but haven’t. Like me, some women choose to abdicate their financial responsibility when it comes to the family finances. Having the passwords to the accounts isn’t enough. I shudder to think about what I would have done as an unsophisticated spouse when I didn’t have a clue what I had or why.

Trying To Stay Afloat

Understanding planners are able to put themselves in the unknowing widow’s shoes. She has been thrown into the deep end of the pool, doesn’t know how to swim, is scared and has been stripped of her life partner. The last thing she needs is someone speaking to her using terms she’s unfamiliar with, asking her questions she can’t answer and wanting her to make decisions she is incapable of—making her feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Granted, there are decisions that need to be made, some sooner than others, but you’ll go far if you go at her pace and explain terms in layman’s language. The planner shouldn’t be condescending. Instead, he or she should be kind, patient and gentle. We are going through a huge transition both mentally and emotionally. Many of these clients are not processing what is being told to them. They are not dumb, simply shell-shocked, and they come across as language impaired.

Fortunately for me, I could handle my own long-term financial planning, but I also relied on my CPA and estate planning attorneys’ advice. My husband died in 2016, so I filed as a qualified widow that year. I had such massive medical deductions that, in spite of the long-term-care insurance, I was concerned about being audited. But I had time to do long-term tax planning for future years as a single person.

The wise planner will spend some time chatting with a newly widowed client. Every widow I have met likes it when someone shares a story or experience about her spouse (I do too). Oftentimes, people think bringing up the name is hurtful. It is not.

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