Dealing with the grief of losing a spouse creates several challenges for recent widows and can change the dynamics of many of their relationships. For example, widows often note that they were previously ‘couple-friends’ with someone, but the relationship dynamics have changed such that it is now uncomfortable to spend time with them as a single person. This dynamic also can apply to financial advisors; in fact, up to 80% of widows leave their advisor within the first two years of becoming a widow. Which means that it is important for advisors not only to thoughtfully reengage with a recently widowed client, but also to explore how they want to be communicated with and what they want the planning process to look like going forward.
Given the significant amount of change occurring in the life of a new widow, a good way to address their circumstances and meet their changing needs proactively is to have multiple ‘re-discovery’ meetings to intentionally learn about their new preferences and goals. The process begins with the initial meeting following the spouse’s death, where the advisor can cover three important topic areas: 1) identifying the client’s current communication preferences while recognizing that these can change as they continue the grieving process; 2) discussing the idea of recurring re-discovery meetings so that the client knows what to expect; and 3) reviewing the client’s important action items, letting the client decide whether (or to what extent) they want the advisor to take the lead or handle the items themselves.
The first re-discovery meeting can be held six months after the initial meeting with a newly widowed client. In addition to checking in on the client’s communication preferences (which might have changed in the previous six months!), a goal of this meeting is to brainstorm ideas to identify new goals and information that are important to the client during this period when so much in their lives may be changing. There is no pressure for anyone to do anything (unless important action items already discussed are looming); the key is simply to create the time and space to give the client a chance to think about things and recognize changing needs and priorities as they arise.
The aim of the next re-discovery meeting, ideally held approximately one year after the initial meeting with the new widow, is to revisit newly identified goals and to focus on implementing them. In addition to revisiting goals that may have been identified in the last re-discovery meeting, advisors can start asking the client to consider a detailed, actionable plan that outlines how they will actually tackle their tasks and establishes a timeline for getting things done.
Ultimately, the key point is that as a widow navigates through the difficult transition after losing a spouse, an advisor can be one of the most sustaining relationships in their life. By doing their best to mindfully communicate with recently widowed clients about their changing values and needs in a genuine, honest, and compassionate way, advisors can help them effectively plan for and support their changing needs!
Why New Widows Leave Their Financial Advisors (It’s Not Just About Poor Communication)
For advisors with newly widowed clients, there is an alarming statistic that up to 80% of widows leave their advisor within the first two years of becoming a widow. And many reports blame this phenomenon on unsatisfactory advisor communication. For instance, some reports cite reasons such as, “My advisor only spoke to my partner”, or “My advisor doesn’t know or understand me”, suggesting that the advisor did not adequately build the relationship with both spouses in the past, resulting in the widow leaving because of poor communication in the past (and potentially present). While these issues may suggest deeply problematic communication blunders that an advisor wouldn’t normally recover from, they also don’t paint a complete picture of what may be really happening.
In reality, grief changes just about all relationship dynamics, along with the participation and communication preferences that go with them. In fact, what is not often mentioned in stories that blame an advisor’s poor communication for losing newly widowed clients is how widows commonly leave their friends and other social organizations (hobbies, activities, volunteering, work). This is often observed in therapy settings and psychology case studies, and it certainly has relevance here.
In these instances, widows often note that they were ‘couple-friends’ with someone, but now, as a single person, things feel different and it is uncomfortable to spend time with and have conversations with that friend. Or how activities they once enjoyed doing together, as a couple, are no longer fun as a single person because the widow’s interests have changed and perhaps their old friends don’t share any of those new interests.
In these instances, when the widow’s relationships and communication preferences change, we don’t blame the widow’s friends for poor communication. Nor do we blame the widow. There is simply no basis to lay blame for why the widow has decided to move on from old relationships. Similarly, blaming advisors for poor communication to explain ‘widow exodus’ is not necessarily a fair point as, again, there are dramatic changes that impact a person when they experience grief, many of which affect the relationships they wish to maintain.
The End-Of-History Illusion And The Difficulty Of Envisioning Future Change
Grief is a major life event that can trigger profound changes in those experiencing it. Furthermore, these changes can be very hard to predict. We, as humans, tend to be very poor at predicting how much change we can potentially undergo from simple, everyday events, and we are even worse at it when those events are significant, major life events.
This failure to predict the changes we will eventually experience as we get older is illustrated well by what is known as the ‘End-of-History Illusion’, proposed in a 2013 report in Science by researchers Quidbach, Gilbert, and Wilson. In their research, subjects ranging in age from 18 to 68 years old consistently reported that they expected to change relatively little in the future despite significant changes they may have undergone in the past.
Which suggests that humans often have no idea how to imagine or predict the extent to which a major life event will impact them. So how could they ever be expected to prepare for those changes? More often than not, widows have no way of knowing how much change they will experience in their first year of widowhood. Because widowhood represents a major transition that can be difficult and deeply complex; during these times, everything can change for a new widow: who they are, what they want, how they communicate, and how they wish to be communicated with.
The Trauma Of Widowhood Can Lead To Dramatic Changes
Losing a spouse is a major life event and represents a transition that comes with significant changes. Some of these changes can include the way the widow prefers to communicate or be communicated with (which can change more than once!) as they move through the process of grief. And when it comes to changing communication preferences, new widows may not yet even realize that they want their advisor to change their manner of communication, let alone how they want their advisor to talk to them! (So how would an advisor even know that they should adjust their communication style with the client, when the client themselves isn’t yet aware of this preference change?)
The reasons why communication preferences can change are varied, but the essence of how we talk about grief – both with respect to how we observe it in others and experience it ourselves – is that it is highly individualized because of our unique social, personal, and familial circumstances that influence our lives in vastly different ways. These factors all have large implications for how we like to communicate, whether this applies to periods when we are grieving or otherwise.
Amy Florian, author of the book No Longer Awkward, a book for financial advisors on communicating with grieving clients, encourages advisors to ask open-ended questions such as, “What kind of day has it been for you today?” or “How do you feel, today?” versus simply asking, "How are you?" These open-ended questions that focus on the present invite the client to share what they are feeling in the present moment, because what the widow may feel on a Monday might be very different from how she feels on a Wednesday.
While everyone may have feelings that are highly transient, grieving clients in particular tend to experience a lot of powerful emotions and overwhelming feelings. Which means that it is especially important to be mindful of how we check-in and communicate with new widows.
For instance, a client may say they are having a hard day and that they simply want more direction. This could be a good time to review concrete to-dos as opposed to suggesting a brainstorming session. On another day, they may feel more energized and may be enthusiastic about identifying new, future plans. Which could be a signal that reviewing and updating goals could be a good agenda point to discuss.
The key point is that simply taking a moment to ask where the client is today and how they feel at the moment can give great insight into how they want their advisor to communicate with them. This can help the grieving client engage more fully and potentially avoid a situation where they leave the meeting confused and without quite understanding what was just discussed.
In addition to communication preferences, widows may also experience major changes involving their goals and self-image. As with communication, advisors can expect that these other areas may change more than once as the client is grieving. For instance, a recent widow may not have been responsible for taking care of the finances while their spouse was still alive and may suddenly find themselves in that new role. This can be a huge responsibility for them; they may feel overwhelmed by what can seem like an insurmountable change. But by viewing their new responsibilities as a series of incremental changes – starting with managing only the most essential tasks, and eventually gaining the education they need to make key decisions and identify new goals – they can eventually empower themselves to be completely self-sufficient, even though this may take place over several years.
The simple fact here is that what a widow may have wanted when their spouse was still alive may no longer be what they want as a single person. The hobbies they enjoyed, the places they wanted to live, and the legacy they hoped to leave may all change. And having space to discuss those changes with friends, family, or their advisor (on the days or during the hours when they are interested in talking) is an important aspect of communicating with widows – just being with them and allowing them to explore potential changes are powerful and important ways to provide the critical support and guidance they may need as they work their way through the various changes they are undergoing.
Finally, the desire for action will likely change many times while the widow is grieving (and even beyond the point when they may feel better and ‘over’ their grief). Critically, the process of grieving can be transformational – and is often profoundly so. Individuals who process their grief often feel like a new, even different person from who they were before their loss. In fact, they may feel as though they transition through many different personas. Many of these may manifest out of deep sadness, but each persona embodies its own well-formed and important character, worthy of respect and acknowledgment. Importantly, each iteration represents different stages of the person’s transformation.
While it can be tempting to recommend that the widow refrain from making any major decisions for at least a year (to ensure they are not made impulsively or with poor judgment), this advice won’t necessarily serve in their best interest. Waiting for a widow to ‘finish’ grieving before considering important decisions or confronting timely issues can be detrimental to their financial situation. Widows are not broken and they are not necessarily irrational; they are often just deeply sad and in transition. They can still think about the future and make decisions. In fact, it can be very beneficial for them to do so, even if it’s just to contemplate their options. Which means that paying attention to their needs to identify what they are ready and willing to do – whether that involves brainstorming new ideas, reviewing tasks that need to be done, or simply sitting quietly – can be the best way to support widows as they navigate through all of the feelings and changes during the grieving process.
How Advisors Can Hold (Re-)Discovery Meetings With New Widows
Advisors who have newly widowed clients will recognize that there is a tremendous amount of change occurring in their client’s life. In fact, a widowed client can seem almost like an entirely new client at each meeting for up to a few years after their loss. Which means the best way to address their circumstances and meet their changing needs proactively is to have multiple ‘re-discovery’ meetings to intentionally learn about their new preferences and goals.
The Importance Of Normalizing Re-Discovery Meetings
Re-discovery meetings generally involve the same agenda as any other new client discovery meeting, so advisors do not necessarily need to learn a new skill to conduct them. The main difference between a re-discovery and a discovery meeting is principally about normalizing the process of having multiple discovery meetings with the widowed client. Which means that the advisor can acknowledge that they will have the same meeting with the client 2 or 3 times in a row, explaining why the process is important for the relationship and working together.
Consider the following scenario that illustrates how an advisor might set this up.
Casandra was married to Will for 20 years. Unfortunately, Will recently passed away. Doug, Casandra and Will’s advisor of 15 years, is meeting with Casandra next week to go over some estate planning tasks, but also wants to introduce and set up re-discovery meetings with Casandra.
Doug has read many articles on the Nerd’s Eye View blog, and knows that the best way to prepare a client for a new idea is to tell the client about it ahead of time, and that normalizing the new idea can often help the client be more comfortable accepting an unfamiliar process. As such, Doug sends the following email to Casandra before their meeting.
I am looking forward to our time together next week. I know you have a lot going on; I want to support you and make the best use of our time, so I am including this brief agenda for our meeting:
- Discuss your communication preferences. When grief strikes, it’s normal for us to have changing needs from day to day. I want to ensure I am communicating with you in the most helpful and supportive way, so we are going to talk about your preferences and what currently feels right for you.
- Re-Discovery meetings are coming. I want to schedule a set time for us to check in every few months over the coming years to review your current goals and discuss any changes you’d like to explore. We’ll spend time during these meetings revisiting your goals and preferences so we can adapt to your needs and ongoing goals.
- To-Dos. I wouldn’t be a planner without action items! We will discuss tasks and, more importantly, how I can help you get stuff done.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
See you soon,
In the above email, Doug did an important thing: he gave his client advance notice that he wanted to schedule future meetings in addition to their upcoming meeting next week. Giving the client advance notice can ease anxieties and normalize new and unfamiliar activities, which is especially important for new widows who are already facing a tremendous change in their lives. Doug’s email serves to normalize the proposed changes and how he will communicate with Casandra about that change.
As the ‘end-of-history’ illusion suggests, Casandra probably hasn’t anticipated most of the changes she is about to face, and the fact that she is changing, has changed, and will continue to change is probably not top of mind for her.
It is very unlikely that Casandra will ever go to Doug’s office and say, “Doug, I’ve been feeling really overwhelmed, so please change your communication style when it comes to reviewing action items until I feel a little more on top of things. Until then, I just need more space to talk through what’s happening. After I get to a point where I don’t feel so overwhelmed, we can get back to reviewing my to-dos.”
Yet, with a simple email, Doug has established a way to give Cassandra some advance notice about what he’d like to do, and has normalized the idea of revisiting Casandra’s changing preferences multiple times during their next several meetings together.
The Initial Meeting With Newly Widowed Clients: Discussing Communication Preferences And Re-Discovery Meetings
When advisors hold re-discovery meetings with new widows, 3 important topics to cover, as outlined in the email agenda in the example above, include the following:
- Identifying the client’s current communication preferences;
- Discussing the idea of recurring re-discovery meetings, and
- Reviewing the client’s important action items.
Changing Client Communication Preferences
Below is a sample script between Doug and his newly widowed client, Casandra, from the example above, that advisors can adapt for their own use when discussing these items with their clients.
Doug: I am glad you are here today, Casandra. I can’t imagine what this is like for you. Can you tell me a bit more about how you are feeling today?
[Note here that Doug did not say, “I’m sorry”, which is not a useful statement, because it can simply leave both the client and advisor feeling awkward without knowing how to respond. Doug also didn’t say, “I know how you feel”, which is also not really appropriate as Doug doesn’t actually know what Casandra is going through emotionally, or how she really feels. Instead, Doug asked a question meant to invite Cassandra to share how she is feeling. The particular question format that Doug uses here is called a ‘swing question’, which is essentially a close-ended question that begins with, in this case, “Can you…”.]
Casandra: I feel like I am underwater, moving in slow motion. Everything reminds me of Will. I am heartbroken.
Doug: I really enjoyed my relationship with Will and I miss him today, as well. I am glad you are here and sharing with me.
[Here Doug is simply listening to Casandra and connecting with her. His intent is to let Casandra know that she is being heard and that her emotions matter. Doug is not trying to be a grief counselor. He doesn’t need to take the conversation further to ask his next question.]
Doug: I want to ask about how you said you felt like you were underwater and going in slow motion; how does that impact our time and communication today?
Casandra [confused] I am not really sure what you mean.
[Most clients probably won’t have any idea what the advisor is talking about, so it is completely normal for a client to respond this way. This is simply a question that most clients probably aren’t used to being asked by a professional.]
Doug: Let me explain. I respect how you are feeling and want our time together to work for you. You may feel more comfortable to take on your action items on your own, or maybe you’d prefer that I help you with your tasks. The same goes for how you’d like me to communicate with you. If you prefer that we only list out a few things we need to cover in our meeting today, we can do that and then we can touch base again in 7 days to revisit other tasks still open. The bottom line is that I am here to help you, and it’s important to me to find out what feels and works best for you.
Casandra: That makes sense. Today I just want to go over a short list of things, and then have a call in 7 days to go over the rest. I’m not sure I’m really up for much else until I feel a bit clearer.
Discussing Re-Discovery Meetings
By asking Casandra what her communication preferences are and using simple follow-up questions, Doug has learned exactly what she needs and how she wants Doug’s support delivered. Doug now understands how Casandra feels and has begun to normalize the process for asking about changing communication preferences. Doug can now move on to his next objective, introducing the idea of re-discovery meetings.
Doug: No problem at all – we can absolutely keep this meeting short and have a follow-up call in a week. Thank you for talking about your preferences with me. Now that we’ve discussed that, I want to talk next about having recurring ‘re-discovery’ meetings with you, where we would start each of the next 2 or 3 meetings talking about your current goals and priorities. I’m going to ask you a lot of the same questions that I asked both you and Will the first time we met 15 years ago. This is so that I can stay on top of your needs and preferences in case there are any changes. I want to be sure we are always discussing what matters most to you and documenting any changes that do come up.
[Notice that Doug doesn’t patronize Casandra by telling her that he expected her to change her mind about everything, nor that what she prefers today is not what she will prefer tomorrow. Doug is simply indicating that if Casandra does change, he wants to know about those changes and to communicate with her in a way that is comfortable for her.]
Casandra: Okay, that sounds good. I imagine I’ll have lots of questions and changes, although there’s so much going on at this point, I have no idea what they are just yet. But yes, these re-discovery meetings sound like a good plan.
The dialogue above is really all Doug needs to do to introduce and normalize the idea of re-discovery meetings. Doug simply needed to let Casandra know what to expect. There will be a lot of change, but Doug and Casandra have now agreed to something that won’t change – how they plan to discuss ongoing change.
Reviewing Action Items
By having a simple exchange to outline what Casandra can expect in future meetings, Doug has set the stage for the relationship and has provided reassurance for Casandra that he is interested and committed to serving her interests, no matter how they change. At this stage, Doug can broach the topic of outstanding action items in a way that Casandra will be comfortable with:
Doug: And now on to our to-dos. We’ll spend a little time going over the most urgent items around your estate plan. For the rest of the tasks that we still need to address, I will go ahead and email those to you, and we can schedule a call to go over those together in about a week or so…
The meeting will continue with Doug reviewing action items with Casandra in precisely the way she requested. Doug knows this is what will work because he took the time to ask.
The First Re-Discovery Meeting (6 Months Out)
After 6 months, Doug is ready to schedule his first re-discovery meeting with Casandra. As before, he sends her an email with an agenda to remind her about the upcoming meeting.
I am looking forward to our conversation next week. I have listed some of the questions I intend to ask in the agenda below. These questions can be ‘deep’ questions, so I wanted to give you time to think about them before asking at the meeting.
Many clients have found it beneficial to journal their thoughts and bring notes to the meeting. If this is helpful to you, I encourage it!
- Revisit Communication & Action Preferences
- Re-Discovery Questions
- Describe what money means to you today?
- Tell me your top two financial priorities right now?
- Share with me what is currently keeping you up at night?
- Tell me what you wish people knew about you now?
- Share with me what new thing(s) you have discovered about yourself that we could explore further in relation to future financial goals?
- Implementation Plans & Preferences
In the meeting, as noted in the agenda, Doug would once again begin with communication preferences. Why? Doug needs to know how Casandra wants him to communicate with her, which is very likely going to be determined by her emotional state. And by focusing the discussion on communication and action preferences, Doug can identify how Casandra is feeling without directly asking about her emotional state.
While Doug can opt to ask her directly (as he did in the example dialogue above for their first meeting), he does not have to do this for each meeting. These conversations can become very emotionally charged, and the client may need an extensive amount of time to go through both the state of their emotions and the work that needs to be discussed.
Furthermore, some advisors will feel very comfortable asking a client, “How are you feeling today?” and spending time with the client to give them space to answer no matter how long that may take, other advisors may not be as comfortable or may not have sufficient time to spend with the client without making them feel rushed. These advisors may prefer to simply ask the client how they prefer to talk about their financial plan, and if there are particular topics they want to focus on or cover later. Alternatively, sharing a list of different communication styles with clients can help advisors discover what appeals most to them without broaching a deeper conversation on more delicate emotional concerns. Such a list can help generate other ideas that the client may not have thought of themselves.
Either way, there is no judgment about the approach an advisor chooses. Regardless of an advisor’s comfort level around having a conversation focused on emotions, understanding the client’s communication preferences will help them conduct the meeting in a manner that will work most effectively for the client.
Asking clients about their communication preferences is not a common question and it may be challenging for some advisors to find a way to introduce the subject in a way that is comfortable and that feels natural for the advisor. However, there are organizations that do offer tools that can help advisors better understand their clients’ communication preferences. For example, Financial DNA offers a ‘Communication DNA’ questionnaire that clients can take to assess their preferred communication styles. Alternatively, the Financial Transition Institute offers training to help better understand how to communicate with clients undergoing major life transitions.
In the dialogue below, Doug presents Casandra with a list of ideas to start the conversation about her communication preferences.
Doug: Casandra, I’m so glad you are here. I want to start our meeting today by reviewing how you’d like me to communicate with you. I took the liberty of writing down some ideas. Please look over these and let me know what jumps out for you.
[Doug hands Casandra the list below.]
- Review the basic facts of the financial plan.
- Review big-picture goals and follow-up via email or a phone call in 3 days to review details.
- Talk about new goals.
- Identify action items to tackle today.
Casandra: Thanks. I like the idea of just getting the basic facts of my plan for now. I also want to have extra time to make my decisions.
Doug: Great, tell me about how you want me to relay those facts to you. I know what we need to review, but what type of facts would be most helpful to you right now?
[Asking follow-up questions is a good way to continue the conversation. Consider how Doug helps Casandra get more specific about her preferences by asking for more details.]
Casandra: I like numbers... I was a math major, and I like looking at the quantitative data that my plan is based on.
Doug: Okay, great! You’d like me to go over the numbers and probabilities of your plan. Is that right?
Casandra: Yes, exactly.
Doug: Now explain to me more about the timeframe you’d like to make decisions. Does this mean you’d like me to send you some numbers to review a week or so in advance, like at the same time as when I send your meeting reminders? Or would you prefer something else?
Casandra: Actually, yes. A week in advance prior to the meeting would be great, so I can have time to think through the information.
[Notice how Doug uses follow-up questions to his initial discovery questions. He gets relevant details, while ensuring that Casandra feels heard, understood, and cared for.]
Doug: Great. Now that we have that sorted, I am going to jump into those questions I sent. Tell me, what are your top two financial goals right now?
Casandra: I’m really glad you sent those questions in advance, because it gave me a chance to put some thought into how I would answer them. For this one, I even jotted down some notes, as you suggested. Right now, my top goal is to sell my house, because I want to move closer to my kids.
[It sounds simple, but encouraging clients to write their thoughts down increases the probability that the client will have something to share and will be honest about their answers.]
Doug can now spend the next hour with Casandra going more deeply into her response by using good follow-up questions. And when they finish discussing one question, they can move on to discussing another question on the list.
The goal of this meeting is to brainstorm ideas to identify new goals and information that are important to the client during this important time when so much in their lives may be changing. There is no pressure for anyone to do anything (unless important action items already discussed are looming); the key point here is simply to create the time and space to give the client a chance to think about things and recognize changing needs and priorities as they arise.
The Second Re-Discovery Meeting (1 Year Out)
While the goal of the first re-discovery meeting (6 months following the initial meeting with the new widow) is primarily to do a lot of dreaming and brainstorming, the goal of the next re-discovery meeting (ideally held approximately 1 year after the initial meeting with the new widow) is to revisit newly identified goals and to focus on implementing those goals.
Doug: Welcome back, Casandra. It’s good to see you again. Let’s go ahead and get started. I’d like you to review the same communication preferences list we reviewed last time, so that we can quickly check in with where you are.
Casandra [reviewing the list]: Facts are still important to me – thanks for sending the updates on my portfolio and progress toward goals. Getting the information ahead of time is really helpful for me. Now that I have had a chance to review everything and knowing what I know, I feel comfortable with making decisions a bit faster now. Even though I still want some extra time to consider all the choices I need to make, I do feel ready to pull the trigger a bit more quickly.
Doug: That’s great! Just so that I’m clear, when you say you’re ready to make decisions more quickly, does that mean that maybe within 7 days we can start to work through some of the action items on your plan? Is that right?
[In an actual meeting, an advisor probably wouldn’t guess so precisely at what the client is trying to say. Instead, using follow-up questions to better understand what a client means is probably more likely to lead to the clarification advisors need. For example, Dough might have instead asked Casandra what she meant by “making decisions a bit faster” and feeling “ready to pull the trigger more quickly.”]
Casandra: Yes, that sounds doable.
Doug: I also want to be sure about your goals and priorities. In our last conversation, you mentioned that selling your home to be closer to your kids was an important goal. Is that still a top priority for you?
Casandra: Yes, but I want to add to it. I’ve decided that I want to live in a big city. I’ve also recently learned that I really love the symphony. I never went with Will; he just wasn’t a fan. But when I went recently, I loved the experience, and I want to explore it more fully… that will be a lot easier in a bigger city.
Doug: Oh wow! That’s wonderful. What symphony did you see?
[Doug is using a true follow-up question here to ensure Casandra feels heard, connected, and understood. He did NOT mention that he also loves the symphony; instead, he kept the focus on Casandra’s experience, which helped to move the relationship forward and to build trust and connection. This is critically important at this stage in the relationship right now, as the widow is identifying new goals and priorities.]
Casandra: I went to see Brahms, Symphony No 2. I cried. I danced in my chair. It was wonderful. An incredible experience.
Doug: Incredible. I am so pleased. Did you meet any new friends there or have you made plans yet to see another….
Again, Doug is asking really great, true follow-up questions here and has even learned new details about the goal Casandra identified in their last meeting together! Casandra is not actively aware that she is becoming a new person. Yet, through re-discovery meetings, Doug has learned new things about his client and kept their communication fresh and useful.
In addition to revisiting new goals that may have been identified in the last re-discovery meeting, advisors can start asking the client to consider a detailed, actionable plan that outlines how they will actually tackle their tasks and establishes a timeline for getting things done.
For instance, while Casandra came up with the idea of selling her house during the first 6-month re-discovery meeting, the discussion in the second re-discovery meeting (at 1 year) can now address a timeline that Casandra is comfortable with, and organizing the necessary tasks to make it happen.
As such, it can be worthwhile to prepare a list of implementation questions to ask the client. Here are a few suggestions:
- Describe your timeline for me.
- Tell me how I can be most useful in helping you complete this task.
- Share with me what success looks like to you when it comes to completing this goal.
These are just a few good ways an advisor can begin discussing plan implementation with the client.
Doug: I am so excited for you about this move and the symphony. Tell me, what is your timeline for starting on these changes?
Casandra: Well, I am excited about being closer to my kids, but getting started on anything now feels a bit fast. I think I would be comfortable listing the house in six or seven months. That should give me some time to figure out where I’d like to go.
Doug: Okay, if we were to list your house in six months from today, we would need to contact a realtor in maybe the next three months or so. Does that sound workable?
Casandra: No, no. I don’t want to do anything at all for 6 months. So maybe in 6 months we can take that step, and push out listing the house to 9 months out. I still want a bit more time with my memories of Will in the house.
Doug: Wonderful. That’s completely fair. In six months, when we meet next, we can start talking about this again.
Doug and Casandra can continue the conversation by reviewing newly identified action items, implementation expectations, and timelines.
In addition to helping clients identify and implement new goals in times of unexpected change, advisors can be one of the most sustaining relationships in a client’s life… especially as they navigate through difficult transitions. Friends and social circles are likely to come and go for widows because their activities and communication preferences will evolve over time. These are completely normal processes that naturally happen whenever a person goes through a deep personal transformation.
Please elaborate on how refraining from major decisions is not in a widow’s best interest. My understanding it not that they are irrational but grieve does lead to temporary cognitive impairment and often these women and men are flooded with emotions. And that giving them space – unless a financial decision needs to be made asap – is recommended by Amy Floiran and other experts in the space.
“While it can be tempting to recommend that the widow refrain from making any major decisions for at least a year (to ensure they are not made impulsively or with poor judgment), this advice won’t necessarily serve in their best interest. Waiting for a widow to ‘finish’ grieving before considering important decisions or confronting timely issues can be detrimental to their financial situation. Widows are not broken and they are not necessarily irrational; they are often just deeply sad and in transition. They can still think about the future and make decisions. In fact, it can be very beneficial for them to do so, even if it’s just to contemplate their options. Which means that paying attention to their needs to identify what they are ready and willing to do – whether that involves brainstorming new ideas, reviewing tasks that need to be done, or simply sitting quietly – can be the best way to support widows as they navigate through all of the feelings and changes during the grieving process.”
Thanks for clarification.
Thank you for this opportunity to clarify. I agree with Amy Florian and the other experts. There would be no need to rush decisions that do not need to be made. Even in my example, the advisor and the client are not making any moves for a year. What I struggle with and/or what I was wanting to point out are two things: 1) a year is arbitrary and 2) grief does not always (and very often never) end(s).
Research on how people experience grief finds only a small number of people experience grief in the linear way it is often describe in. Research also shows people can be ready long before a year to move forward, while others need more. So waiting for a year, simply for a year won’t always make sense. Nor does trying to wait until the grief is gone to be able to make changes and decisions.
So instead of saying, let’s not do anything for a year/until grief is gone (which I don’t think serves many people and may be why advisors are losing widow(ers))…I wanted to point out what could be done during that year (whether the grief is fully gone or not) to stay connected. The work during that year, again, does not have to include any large, irreversible financial decisions. Yet, we do want to spend more time asking about communication preferences and learn more about what and how the client is changing through this process – this gives us much more information and feedback than just waiting for a year.
I think if we wait for that year and not find ways to stay connected, we will end out how we currently end out, where the client leaves. I want advisors to feel that there are ways to be connected along the way even if not making any financial decisions. I hope this is helpful. Thank you again for the opportunity to clarify!
Thanks for the clarification. That makes perfect sense and aligns with my work with advisors and widows. Much appreciated.
Elliott Weir - III Financial says
What I’ve seen working with recently widowed women is that many leave their current advisor because they didn’t think that advisor could help them. In one case, she saw that advisor as an “investments guy” because that’s all that the advisor and her husband talked about. She wanted to know about budgeting, knowing she could stay in her home, not being a burden on her children, etc.
Also, there’s a lot of value in helping the recently widowed “triage” since too much can be overwhelming. Help them figure out what has deadlines, what needs to be done now, and what can wait until they are ready (most things can wait).
Finally, if the recently widowed is a prospect and not a client, do NOT try to create a full financial plan right away! Most are trying to get through one day at a time and have no desire to look into the future. Help them with the initial blocking and tackling, and then do future planning on their timeline.