Practice Management

How advisers can best deal with the death of a client

Here's what you should think about when putting together your practice's own bereavement plan

Sep 23, 2016 @ 1:42 pm

By Joni Youngwirth

In a sign of changing times for our industry, the leading edge of the baby-boomer generation turns age 70 this year. Over the next decade and beyond, advisers will increasingly have to attend to the needs of grieving survivors, as well as grieve the passing of clients themselves. Do you have a plan for how your firm will deal with this new reality?

RESPONDING TO THE DEATH OF A CLIENT

How firms respond to the death of a client depends on a number of key variables, including:

• The number of households a firm has

• Where the office is located (e.g., a major metropolitan area or a small, tight community)

• The firm's business model (Ensemble firms tend to need a more consistent approach.)

For example, some advisers will travel a great distance to attend a funeral, while others may choose to attend only a local ceremony. Sending flowers for the wake, a fruit basket to the home or a donation to a memorial organization identified by the family are common responses, as is sending a sympathy card. Occasionally, doing nothing may be appropriate as well.

(More: What an adviser should do when a client names them as a beneficiary in their will)

Personal preferences, as well as community expectations, often play a role as well. One adviser from a small town said her absence at a client's funeral would be conspicuous while another explained, “When we hear of a client's passing, we pause and assess the closeness of the relationship so we respond in an authentically appropriate way.” For those clients who are particular favorites of the firm, one adviser takes a moment at staff meetings to acknowledge their passing and note the contributions the firm has made to the individuals and their families. Yet another firm with hundreds of households in a metropolitan area acknowledged that they sometimes didn't know when a client had passed away.

There was one commonality among all the firms I spoke with, and that was the value they provided to the survivors of the deceased. Often, a spouse who may not have been involved in managing the family's wealth is suddenly thrust into a new role. Even more challenging for advisers are situations where the couple had never signed a power of attorney or financial proxy documents. The more sudden the passing of a client, the more time the adviser tended to spend with the surviving spouse and/or family. Not surprisingly, most firms noted being more acutely affected when the loss was unexpected, due to sudden illness or accident.

DEVELOPING YOUR OWN PLAN

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is often quoted for articulating the five stages of grief, which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While we instinctively want to make the pain go away, the reality is that we can't go around the grieving process; we have to go through it.

If your firm hasn't experienced the loss of a client, you've been lucky; but that doesn't mean you shouldn't prepare for this unfortunate — and inevitable — event. So what should you think about when putting together your own bereavement plan? Here are some considerations:

• Schedule extra time for the first meeting with a surviving spouse just to listen.

• Set reminders to check in regularly (e.g., monthly) with survivors over the next six to 12 months to see how they are doing. Grief can lead many to neglect their own health or become isolated.

• Create a list of organizations in your area that provide support to surviving spouses or family members and make it available to your clients.

• Set a standard for how all advisers and staff in the firm should interact with the family and whether they will attend calling hours or funerals.

• Offer clients a checklist of things an executor should be aware of and the possible steps to take to handle the probating of the estate.

• Document your bereavement policy in your employee handbook to set expectations for all advisers and staff in the firm.

(More: Social Security and dying too soon)

Everyone deals with loss differently. Some shut down, while others become overly empathetic. Keeping your responses deliberate, thoughtful and consistent can help you and your staff provide the level of support survivors will need from you in their time of grief.

Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network.

0
Comments

What do you think?

View comments

Recommended for you

Upcoming Event

Apr 30

Conference

Retirement Income Summit

Join InvestmentNews at the 12th annual Retirement Income Summit - the industry's premier retirement planning conference.Much has changed - and much remains to be learned. Attend and discuss how the future is full of opportunity for ... Learn more

Featured video

Events

WisdomTree's Maute: Developing elegant tech-enabled solutions

Advisers need unique technology-enabled solutions in order to have more time to expand their practice, according to WisdomTree's Alisa Maute. What can be done today to create a more thriving business of tomorrow.

Latest news & opinion

Nontraded REITs to post worst sales since 2002

The industry is on track to raise just $4.4 billion, well off the $19.6 billion it raised just four years ago, as new regulations hinder sales.

Broker protocol for recruiting a boon for clients

New research finds advisers whose firms have joined the agreement take better care of customers.

Meet our 2017 Women to Watch

Introducing 20 female financial advisers and industry executives who are distinguished leaders, advancing the business of providing advice through their creativity and hard work.

Raymond James executives call on industry to keep broker protocol

Also ask firms to pay for the administration of the protocol to 'ensure its longevity and relevance.'

Senate committee approves tax plan but full passage not assured

Several Republican senators expressed reservations about the bill, and the GOP cannot afford too many defections.

X

Subscribe and Save 60%

Premium Access
Print + Digital

Learn more
Subscribe to Print