Before and After the Death of a Spouse — What Can Advisors Do to Help?

When someone close to you dies, it can be hard to fathom anything beyond the anguished devastation — as grief is an incredibly demanding partner. In particular, the death of a spouse brings about major changes in the life of the surviving partner, not to mention the heartbreak and future uncertainty that become part of one’s daily routine.

Death may be scary to talk about, but it requires planning

Regardless of whether the death was expected or sudden, rarely have couples thought through everything the surviving spouse will be responsible for handling alone in a world that is irrevocably changed. While some couples will have had conversations and there will be a semblance of documented organization, many people find themselves unprepared. When the dust begins to settle, there is a lot that needs to be done to get organized and avoid potential financial strife, arguments, and/or exploitation.

Let’s now add to the equation that statistically speaking, women live longer than men, and it’s not uncommon for men to marry younger women. Women who may not have been as involved in the financial planning aspects of their lives as a couple. Women who have chosen not to participate actively in “those conversations” because they trust it’s being handled appropriately, they lack confidence in their knowledge level, or they just don’t find it interesting. We all recognize that many couples have what they view as their own interests and roles in the relationship and they don’t always share in those responsibilities, even when it’s related to important topics like estate and financial planning, bills, investments, insurance, etc. Men may find themselves in a similar predicament with some, or all, of the same challenges.

Organization is critical so the transition can be less burdensome

What happens when her husband dies? Here are some of the things she may deal with…

  • Organ donation
  • Notifying family and friends
  • Funeral arrangements
  • Death certificates
  • Meetings with attorneys and planners
  • Dealing with banks, social security, and financial institutions to consolidate, pay bills, and close accounts
  • Canceling driver’s licenses, insurance, memberships
  • Decluttering and sifting through his things
  • Selling the extra car, other belongings, or potentially even the home
  • Executing the intentions of the will and trust

In addition to handling these responsibilities, she needs to take care of herself and others in the midst of high emotions or challenging family dynamics…all while the responsibilities of daily life continue.

It can seem impossible to absorb these responsibilities and effectively manage this many moving pieces… unless she has help. Assistance in advance to organize, document, and consolidate, and a support structure during that is meant to protect her and her loved ones while shedding light on the dark path ahead. Relationships with friends, family, and an advisor are critical.

As the trusted advisor, make sure you have a balanced, deep relationship with both husband and wife (and hopefully the next generation as well)

Don’t fall prey to this statistic: More than 70% of women seek to find a new advisor after the death of their husband. What can you do?

  1. Figure out ways to pull her in to conversations, even if she is reluctant, says she’s not interested, or doesn’t have the time.
  2. Listen to her, find out what’s important to her, watch her nonverbal communication when she’s in the room, and engage her in conversation.
  3. Talk openly with each couple you serve about effective planning that can help make a raw, cumbersome transition less painful. They will both thank you for it.

No one feels comfortable talking about death, but having these kinds of conversations makes advisors indispensable to the families they serve.

For additional ideas on how to help your clients be better prepared, contact Loring Ward at retirement@loringward.com.

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