When a client dies…

As an advisor to older couples, it’s likely you’ll face the death of a client at some point and in many cases that death will be the husband’s. What’s more, you may not have a strong relationship with the wife. Remember: 70% of widows leave the family’s financial advisor.

The wife calls to let you know “Harry died.” What do you say? What do you do?

React and listen. “I’m shocked, Helen. What happened?” Encourage her to tell you all she wants. According to John Gray (Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus) “Tell me more,” is always a good way to deal with a woman in a stressful situation.

Offer personal support. “Lots of things will be happening in the next week. Take the time you need and only do those things that are absolutely necessary. Lots of things can wait. What’s more people want to help at times like these so reach out to them and me.”

Be specific with how you can help. “I’ll be happy to drive people around / house sit / walk your dog / organize meals for the family. What would be helpful right now?” Be a friend rather than a financial advisor.

Bring her peace of mind. “There are financial matters that will need to be taken care of. I know what they are and when they need to be handled. I won’t let anything get behind. And nothing needs to be handled in the next few weeks so leave it to me to bring them up to you as they need to be dealt with.”

Reassure her. “Thank you for calling me. Harry told me how important it was to him to make sure you’d be okay in the short and long term. I will do whatever I can to make it easier for you to know and understand what’s going on. Leave it to me to be in touch in a couple of weeks and we can sit down when the time is right and go over the more immediate matters.”

Be the Expert in Transitions

But we get ahead of ourselves. Are you likely to be one of the few people the wife is likely to call when her husband dies? If you’re not, you should be. So start forging relationships with the wives of your couple clients now before its too late.

  • Make it a point to be the advisor who knows where everything is or better still hold all the documents: will, estate plan, end of life wishes, etc. Such a service is valuable and will be appreciated by every client, even if they don’t use it.
  • Make sure people in your office likely to take a call related to a client death know how to handle the call and take immediate action by getting you to call personally.
  • Next make sure you have a process in place for when clients die and train your staff on how to execute: what needs to be dealt with, by when and what information is required. Create the checklist and keep it up to date.
  • Educate yourself about the grieving process and how to respond to the people affected. Consider development courses, books and and online resources. Become the expert in transitions. It adds to your value and creates a point of differentiation.

Take away: There’s plenty of value to clients for advisors who are experts in life’s transitions. When a client dies, be a friend to the wife rather than an advisor, have a process in place familiar to your staff and create a checklist of all financial matters that have to be dealt with and the timing for each.

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