How Advisors Can Tailor Their Services for Widows

Karen Demasters
Financial Advisor
February 1, 2018

Click here for original article in Financial Advisor

Anecdotal evidence abounds about widows and their uncertainty about or even fear of–finances after their husbands’ deaths.

But one advisor has set out to research exactly how widows cope, and how advisors can serve them better.

Kathleen M. Rehl, a financial planner, author and teacher who specializes in helping widows, undertook research along with three colleagues by focusing on a group of 1,100 widows.

One of the key findings was that half of the widows said they were not as confident about finances after their husbands’ or partners’ deaths as they were before; another 23 percent said their confidence level was about the same.

Another key finding from the study, according to the researchers, was that widows who worked with a financial advisor felt more financially confident. However, many advisors do not know how to deal with or help widows.

Numerous studies have shown that a large percentage of widows leave the financial advisor who helped them when they were part of a couple, Rehl said.

“This may mean for some widows that they lose the benefit of [past] advice that took into account life with their deceased partner and planning inherent in that advice,” said the study, entitled “Widows’ Voices: The Value of Financial Planning,” which was published in the Journal of Financial Service Professionals.

The fact that many advisors have not learned how to build a relationship with widows is amazing when considering that 70 percent of all married baby boomer wives will experience widowhood; that 70 percent of widows fire their advisors after their spouse dies; and that many women will be dual inheritors, as they are given money from deceased spouses and their parents, the report noted.

When the study participants were asked what they need most, the widows’ top desire was to receive help from a trusted financial advisor. 

The second thing women said they wanted most is simply to have more money. The third most popular response was to understand their money issues better through financial education and classes.

The widows reported a lack of confidence after their spouses died even though most had some experience managing the family finances before the death. In only 21 percent of the cases did the spouse or partner manage most of the financial matters alone. That means the majority of these women were at least somewhat engaged in financial matters before becoming widowed.

“We believe an educational program for widows could benefit many of these women,” the report said. “Because many widows are already part of online support communities, it is reasonable to think that some education could happen through these types of community resources.”

Male and female financial advisors who want to connect with widows need to learn more about widowhood and the emotions that go with it, Rehl said. “The ones who are serious about working with widows need extra training. Too many are focused on the technical side of planning.”

“Financial advisors may benefit from spending some time and effort learning about the unique needs, wants and aspirations of this fast-growing widowed population,” the report said. “For those advisors who have not previously considered the possibility of adding a specialty-focus on widows, this paradigm shift may impact their business planning going forward."

The report recommended as one resource. The site includes  videos, booklets and other print material that can help advisors better understand and serve this market. For advisors who want advanced training related to assisting widows, the Sudden Money Institute
( offers a one-year Certified Financial Transitionist program, including working with widows.

Rehl, author of “Moving Forward On Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows,” urged advisors who want to expand their practices into this area or to make it their specialty to start with going to conferences that focus on widows. She said advisors should also attend local support groups for widows and make contacts among financial therapists.

The other researchers on the project were Carolyn C. Moor, executive director and founder of Modern Widows Club; Linda Y. Leitz, CFP, co-owner of It’s Not Just Money, a fee-only financial planning firm in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and John E. Grable, CFP, and director of the Financial Planning Performance Laboratory at the University of Georgia.





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