BOCA RATON, Fla. -- After Kathleen Rehl’s husband died in 2007, the fact that she was a Certified Financial Planner did not save her from the financial confusion that affects most widows.
“I thought I was going crazy. I couldn’t remember where I put my car keys,” Rehl said. “All of a sudden, I am frightened about my own money.”
Rehl calmed her fears by talking to her own financial planner, and making sure her wealth was stable. But financial advisors working with widows need to keep those emotional effects in mind, Rehl said at the Women Advisors Forum conference in Boca Raton, Fla. on Tuesday. Even the most financially savvy clients might not fully comprehend information presented to them at the outset because of the effects of what they are going through, she said.
There are currently 12 million widows in the U.S. population, which is increasing at a rate of 800,000 per year. An estimated 70% of female Baby Boomers are expected to outlive their husbands.
But widowhood is not limited to that generation. Rehl said that the U.S. Army is currently the largest purchaser of her book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows, to help prepare the young wives of soldiers who have died in combat.
Understanding how widows are feeling is one approach financial advisors need to take, Rehl said. The other thing financial advisors need to do is know how to talk to widows.
Financial advisors should never say “I know how you feel” to a recently widowed client, Rehl said, and instead should say something like “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now. How have the past couple of weeks been for you?”
Financial advisors should also use the name of the deceased spouse in conversation, and share their memories of the deceased spouse in their condolences. Most importantly, financial advisors should listen more than they talk when working with widowed clients, Rehl said.
“They want a confidant. They want someone who understands the grief process,” Rehl said of widowed clients. “They’re not interested in beating the market. They’re not interested in that hot stock.”
Financial advisors can also help widows avoid the most common mistakes by limiting the immediate major decisions they make, aside from taking care of a funeral and the collection of benefits, according to Rehl.
Some of the situations widows are most susceptible to include investing with solicitors who prey on new widows with unsuitable investments, deciding to relocate or sell real estate too soon and hesitating to change the investment decisions their deceased spouse made.
Helping widowed clients avoid those issues and taking the time to work with them is crucial for financial advisors, who are often replaced by these clients in the first several years following the death, according to Rehl.
“Efficiency is not your goal here. It will take longer to work with a widow,” Rehl said.
Lorie Konish writes for On Wall Street.
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