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When clients survive a mass shooting

Advisers working with survivors should focus on more than just the financial and legal aspects of their situation

Jul 9, 2019 @ 5:12 pm

By Amy Florian

A spray of bullets. A chorus of screams. Blaring sirens. Another mass shooting.

This scenario is becoming all too familiar, with gunmen taking lives in workplaces, churches, and schools across the country. Increasingly, advisers have clients affected by these shootings, or live in communities that have been shaken to the core. What do you do?

Pro bono services

Survivors of a mass shooting need professional help. Some need to settle the estate of a victim. Some receive donations or settlement money from lawsuits or claims. Often, they don't know where to turn.

Consider working with other advisers, estate planning attorneys and professionals to offer pro bono services to survivors. Recent examples of such pro bono efforts occurred after the shootings in in Las Vegas in 2017, in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, and in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017.

You may or may not get new clients from these efforts, but the satisfaction of helping people in a time of such great need is worth it.

Focus on more than financial, legal aspects

Even more than your professional expertise, these survivors need emotional and psychological support, which starts with telling their story. In fact, the greater the trauma, the more important it is for them to hear the words coming out of their own mouths over and over again. It helps them make it real, so they can begin to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Start with some key questions, such as:

• What do you wish people knew about what you experienced that day?

• What was the hardest aspect of it for you? What still is?

• Who do you find it easiest to talk to about what happened?

If they knew someone who died, ask them to tell you about that person.

• What do you hope people remember about him/her?

Then gradually transition to business with questions like:

• When you came in today, you were hoping I could help. What do you most want from me?

• What worries you the most?

Based on what they say, ask more until you have a clear understanding of where to begin. Then simplify it as much as possible.

When people have been traumatized, the rational capacity of the brain is affected. They have a harder time thinking through options and assessing risk.

Write things down so they can see what you're saying as you explain it. Ask them to explain it back to you so you can see where there are gaps in their understanding. Let them know you are their advocate, with the sole purpose of helping them make the best decisions possible.

Follow up afterwards

The trauma and grief lasts for a very long time, particularly if they witnessed the shooting, if they were shot themselves or if they knew someone who died.

Every month or two, send a "thinking of you" card. In some cards, offer a gift certificate for coffee, a four-pack of chocolates or a bud vase with flowers. On the anniversary, either call or send a card to let them know you are remembering with them and keeping them close in your heart.

Following these steps won't take away the pain. But it will help survivors feel held in care, protected by your expertise and better able to focus on their own healing.

(More: Be vigilant about scams and fraud involving elder clients)

Amy Florian is CEO of Corgenius, a firm that works with financial professionals and others who help the grieving.

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