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Adding Value After the Death of a Client’s Spouse

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We have been discussing emotional elements of the client-advisor relationship recently (see Why Clients Leave an Advisor and Why Clients Leave an Advisor, Pt. 2: Clients Stay When You Care). In this post, we will continue by examining the trauma a client feels when they lose a spouse by death and how an advisor can play a key role in the healing process. Over the years, I have encountered this type of situation on a number of occasions and will share a few relevant lessons. 

Special care must be taken when dealing with a client in this type of situation. A basic understanding of human behavior will help deepen your relationships and give greater insight when you encounter a grieving spouse. Our experiences and genetic hard-wiring are the primary factors that influence the way we view the world. As these factors collide, it produces a unique paradigm or belief system in each of us. The result? Some people are more difficult to read while others wear their feelings on their sleeves.

Regardless, a person’s view of the world is revealed by the information they share and decisions they make. We, as advisors, must be prepared to guide our clients through the maze of complexity when death separates them from the love of their life. 

Death of a Spouse

The loss of a loving and devoted spouse is one of the most painful events a person will ever endure. Unfortunately, when death occurs, the surviving spouse will have to make a number of decisions. The client’s level of wealth and the amount and quality of advanced planning will determine how well this process flows. This is an opportunity for an advisor to be of great assistance.

In our practice for financial planning clients, we maintain a list of every asset the client owns along with its value, location and the person to contact. This places us in a unique position to simplify this overwhelming process for the surviving spouse. In short, we become the quarterback; working with the client’s other advisors as needed. We will hold their hand throughout the process of retitling property, engaging their attorney to change the will (if necessary), filing for life insurance and Social Security benefits, changing beneficiaries, and anything else that needs to be addressed. 

A few years ago, I had a client who lost his spouse suddenly. I accompanied him to his deceased wife’s employer to meet with someone in the HR department. We gathered all of the necessary paperwork and I helped him through the process of filing for benefits, etc. About a year later, the subject came up in conversation and he said, “You saved my life.” I was stunned. Even though I knew him well, apparently, he was able to mask his depression. Although I didn’t do that much, in his mind, it was a lifeline. The point is you may not realize the difference you make. 

Next week, we will discuss how to increase your value to a client during their divorce. This is tricky, especially if you were working with both parties prior to the divorce. 

Until next time, thanks for reading and have a great week.

— Learn more about advising widows in this story by Olivia Mellan.