I recently heard award-winning author Kathleen Rehl speak on the grief stages of widowhood and how to relate to this growing segment of our population. She shared that 70% of women will be widowed and the median age of widows in America is 59. Widows make up 3.5% of our population with over 1 million added each year. Rehl explained that financial advisors often try to solve all problems widows face immediately with charts, graphs and analysis; but many recent widows need time and space to grieve before making important financial decisions. Also, each situation is different depending on the circumstances of the loss. Here are some steps taken directly from Rehl’s website (www.KathleenRehl.com) that could help you as a family member, friend or financial advisor of a recent widow.
Communicate with Empathy. Don’t use clichés like: “You have my deepest sympathy; I’m sorry about all this; At least you have your children.” Rather, say: “When I heard about [spouse’s name]’s sudden death, I was shocked. I don’t know what to say to ease your pain. I’m here for you. There’s nothing you have to do immediately. Just take care of yourself, and let your family and friends step up. They love you. How about if I call you on [set a date] and we’ll talk more then?”
Focus on the Financial Triage. A new widow in the first stage of widowhood is highly stressed. Often, she’ll say she “feels numb,” “in a fog,” or like she’s “going crazy.” As a grieving spouse, she needs to be heard and understood. She wants to feel safe.
- Don’t encourage a new widow to make major, irrevocable decisions like moving to a new home.
- Do check on her cash flow. Be sure bills are paid and insurance is in force.
- Do assist in applying for death benefits, but don’t invest new money immediately. Park life insurance proceeds in a safe account until new goals are set. Help her guard against well-meaning friends with hot investment tips.
Be Her Thinking Partner. You’re not there to tell her what to do. Help her make decisions that are right for her and the family. She used to do that with her husband, but now she needs some wise assistance in moving forward. It may be up to a year or so before a widow transitions through the various stages of grief, so plan accordingly. The later stages of grief, will be the time for general planning such as repositioning investment portfolios, making career or postretirement decisions, education planning, and housing issues.
GO SLOW… Any suggested transitions or change will be an opportunity for grief to manifest itself. Grieving is not only for the loss of the loved one but often it is also over the death of the financial dreams they shared together. For more resources visit www.kathleenrehl.com.
-R. Heath Morris, CFP®
Vision Financial Group
4505 Pine Tree Circle, Birmingham, AL 35243
Investment Advisory services offered through Investment Advisors, a division of ProEquities, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Securities offered through ProEquities, Inc., a registered broker-dealer and member of FINRA & SIPC. Vision Financial Group, Inc. and West Alabama Bank are independent of ProEquities, Inc. Securities and insurance products offered are not bank deposits, have no bank guarantee, are not FDIC insured, and may lose value.