I tell stories throughout this book to provide context and to make it easier to share new information. But let’s start with your story. I haven’t met you, but I may have a sense of the concerns you have regarding your financial affairs. Notice that I didn’t say that I know how you feel because I haven’t been through what you have. But a lot of woman have told me how they were feeling and that experience helps me to understand how you may be feeling. Based on that experience, I am inclined to ask the following:
− Are you feeling overwhelmed? Does it seem that there are so many decisions to make and you feel stuck in one place, unable to make them?
− Do you feel vulnerable? Do you feel as if you are in a weak position and that people around you want to persuade you, to take you down a path you are unsure of?
− Do you feel that advisors and others in the financial world talk down to you? Do they seem impatient with you and anxious to move ahead when you’re not yet ready?
In speaking with widows over the years, I found that the following are some consistent themes that emerged as they shared their thoughts and feelings.
Most are not comfortable tackling larger financial issues until one to two years after their husband’s passing.
Take your time. Unless the financial issues can’t wait, you need to work through your grief first. Aside from taking care of day-to-day needs such as paying bills and filing taxes, don’t feel forced to jump right into heavier financial matters until you can focus on them. It may be very new to you and it may present challenges that require focus and effort. Be kind to yourself and get to it when you’re ready.
Even if you know intuitively that you have enough to live comfortably, you may be taking on new responsibilities and need to make decisions you’ve never made before. I recall one client, who most people would consider wealthy, saying “sometimes I wish I didn’t have this money.” When I asked her why, she said, “It’s something else to worry about. I don’t feel at ease. I feel as if I owe it to myself to give it my attention and to make sure I’m investing properly.” For her, it was a responsibility.
Most women whose husbands were professionals or business owners say that they had very little contact with the family’s financial advisors prior to their husband’s death. Those same people, without exception, regret that they were not more involved. The main reason for not being involved was that it was something their husbands were more naturally inclined to do.
When they do turn their attention to financial matters, many women do not feel comfortable with the advisors their husbands dealt with and feel the need to change. In most cases, they are not made to feel important or acknowledged.
Research shows that a majority of Canadian widows change advisors within a year of their spouse’s death. Women who were involved in financial decisions when their husbands were alive tended to stay with the same advisor and had a much easier time taking full responsibility and working through the decisions on their own.
Most women say their biggest priority is getting comfortable making decisions. They feel that advisors try to be helpful, but that they often talk over their clients’ heads and assume the clients know more than they actually do. The widows wish that the advisors would understand their desire to be more involved and spend more time educating them.
Most are looking for the right amount of information. They are comfortable relying on advice and want to know enough to be informed clients who can process the information given to them, ask the right questions and make decisions that are good for them.
Two points come from this information. First, I want to reassure you that what you are feeling is normal. I’ve worked with many women who felt like you and I was able to help them get to a place where they now feel much stronger, more independent and less vulnerable. They feel comfortable with their plan and with how their money is invested. It makes sense to them. It’s a load off their mind. This book aims to give you the benefit of what they experienced and what would have made the process easier for them. Their insight helped to create it.
Second, I want to encourage you to use this information (and other information too) to demand service that meets your needs. You can set the tone of the conversations. If you’re not getting the information you need in the way you need it, insist that the conversation change until you get what you want. The advisor with the right attitude will be thrilled and appreciate the feedback. It is much easier to serve a client and help do what is best for her when there is true dialogue taking place.
It’s about being in control and feeling strong. With that in mind, I turn to those things that you can do to maintain your sense of control and your independence.