My parents were married for 56 years, so when my dad passed away in 2006, it was no surprise that my mom suddenly found herself lost and alone.
Being widowed is surely one of life's most traumatic events, as I know from personal ex-perience when I became a widower seven years ago.
The overwhelming sorrow of losing a spouse and finding oneself without a partner and best friend is sometimes difficult for others to comprehend.
Like my mom, many women also lose their financial mainstay and the guardian of their life security when they lose their spouse. And when that happens, even if they are surrounded by loving family and friends, they know the meaning of being truly on their own. Suddenly being responsible for all one's financial decisions is incredibly stressful, especially at a time of sorrow.
(For more on how advisers can help women at all stages of life, see our Special Report, “Women and Investing,” which begins on Page 12.)
The fact that widowhood thrusts so many women into the financial driver's seat underscores an astounding statistic: Women control $14 trillion in assets. But study after study shows that women are given short shrift by the advisory community. That's a serious mistake. By recognizing the growing influence of female investors, advisers are in a position to gain market share by adding clients and retaining their current female client base.
As for my family's situation, it was no different than countless others.
My dad was a certified public accountant and retired from Chase Manhattan Bank as a vice president of the international auditing division. Needless to say, he handled all family financial matters.
AN UNWITTING DISSERVICE
Without realizing it, however, he had done my mother a disservice, because she relied entirely on my dad for making all financial decisions, right down to balancing the checkbook.
Luckily, my parents had a great financial adviser. After my father died, Bob, who ran his own firm in Red Bank, N.J., told my mom to take some time and not worry about any financial matters.
Once Bob convinced her that he would handle things for the short term and that no one was going to take her house, my mother relaxed.
My mom admitted to me that after my dad died, she was terrified. She knew the family was there to offer emotional support and to handle day-to-day chores, but she was afraid to face the financial duties. She simply was in the dark about anything that involved money.
About two months after my dad died, Bob called a meeting with my mom and me to go over every financial detail. He looked over bank account statements and brokerage accounts, discussed my dad's pension and insurance policies, went through all medical insurance papers and explained the health care coverage.
Bob worked out a plan for how much money my mom needed to live on.
His eye for detail and his reassuring manner reduced the confusion for her.
Although he had been my parents' adviser for many years, that meeting was an education for my mom. She always had remained on the financial sidelines. Bob, however, placed her squarely in the game. He did so in a matter-of-fact, simple style — one that clearly put my mom at ease. Plus, he never spoke in financial jargon, which would have made her very uncomfortable.
As Bob pointed out at the time, most of his female clients are just like my mom. They are intelligent, capable and competent people. And most of them also are widows who spent the majority of their adult lives with their financial affairs managed by their husbands.
It was a system that never failed until the financial managing partner suddenly was no longer there.
My mom has since passed away and so has Bob, who spent more than 20 years as my parents' financial adviser and trusted counselor.
Advisers can learn a lesson from Bob because he cared and took the time to listen to my mom to determine her specific needs, not just her finances.
Jim Pavia is the editor of -InvestmentNews.