Initiating conversations with client couples about what to do when one spouse dies is difficult, but it’s in clients’ best interest to have these discussions when both partners are able to participate. It’s especially important for women, who are more likely to be the surviving spouse.

A study released Monday by New York Life found 68% of women reported significant life changes following the death of their spouse.

Men suffered, too, following the death of their wife, but the survey found they reported significant life changes at lower rates than women. Over half of women (55%) said adjusting to a change in income was a significant challenge they faced as a widow and 46% cited budgeting for one income, compared with 34% and 32% for men, respectively.

Interestingly, 21% of women said no longer saving enough for retirement was a big challenge they faced after their spouse died, compared to just 10% of men.

“The news is unsettling: Women are not prepared for the loss of a spouse, and the problems are financial and much more,” Chris Blunt, co-president of the Insurance and Agency Group for New York Life, said in a statement.

New York Life questioned almost 900 widows and widowers who were within 10 years of their loss for the survey. A third of respondents were 65 or younger.

When asked to compare their financial situation before and after the death of their husbands, most women said they felt confident prior to their loss. However, 59% said after their loss that they didn’t have enough life insurance to feel secure. In fact, among women whose husbands didn’t have life insurance when they died, 39% said they were struggling to make ends meet in that first year.

Among women whose husbands did have life insurance policies in place, the proceeds lasted about two and a half years.

“These widows learned too late that they were underinsured,” Blunt said. “The message is clear – life insurance proceeds are important, but the need for that financial security blanket is much greater than what exists in many financial plans.”

Having more — or any — life insurance was the biggest change widows would have made to be better prepared for the death of their spouse, and 42% said they wish they had saved more.

An advisor’s role might extend past his or her financial obligations to clients. Although conversations about death are difficult, 30% of widows said they wish they had detailed discussions about how their lives would change “financially and otherwise.” Twenty-eight percent said they wish they had a better financial plan in place. It might be useful for advisors to review their married female clients’ plans to make sure their concerns are met, and to speak with their client couples about what changes they might expect following the death of their partner.

— Check out Working With Widows on ThinkAdvisor.