More than 1,000 women in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., area are widowed every year, says advisor Chris Bentley. So last year he created a way to help those women by offering them a service with the help of CFPs, as well as financial, legal and emotional support. Now he wants to spread that service across the nation.

In January 2018, he launched Wings for Widows, which offers free financial and legal help to those who have recently lost their spouses. Bentley, an advisor with Edina Wealth Management, in Edina, Minn., spent much of the first year on his new charity getting organized and helping the first dozen clients.

The organization was launched after Bentley talked with a recently widowed friend and found out she was getting more information from a support group than from institutional sources.

Bentley, now the charity’s president, said he is trying to perfect the process Wings for Widows uses so that it will be replicable in other locations.

Widows seeking assistance with the program are encouraged to fill out a three-minute assessment on its website, WingsForWidows.us, to give an indication of whether it can help them. Three meetings are then arranged for the widow with a financial advisor who volunteers his or her services, and possibly another widow volunteer who has already been through the process.

The first meeting is an introduction and assessment of the issues the widow is facing. The second and third meetings are then set over the next three to six months to prioritize issues and lay out an action plan. Wings for Widows has vetted financial and legal professionals and often gives the program’s users a list of potential candidates if they need tax services, estate planning, accounting help or other services.

“I had been working with widows for more than a decade and found it was difficult for them to deal with practical issues when they were dealing with grief and loss,” Bentley said. “I saw a giant opportunity to do something more for them.”

Though it’s designed for widows, widowers aren’t turned away, Bentley said. He and the volunteers are tweaking the process as they work with the first clients and hope to offer the services elsewhere within five years.

Bentley provided the initial funding to get Wings for Widows off the ground, and donations are now accepted at the organization, which is a 501(c)(3). The services are only offered in person “because this is hand-holding,” Bentley said. Wings for Widows does not write wills or estate plans or provide legal services, but it has a service directory for clients, and the organization asks for feedback on the professionals clients use.

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