Here’s a statistic that may surprise you as it surprised us: nearly 80 percent of all U.S. women will eventually become the sole financial decision maker for their household. Moreover, this responsibility won’t just be theirs for the short-term. For many who have outlived their spouses, they’re going to be solely in charge of household money matters for two decades or more.
This demographic reality is all the more reason, according to this CNBC article, why women who are recently widowed need a trusted financial advisor right from the start. In the article, financial advisor Stacy Francis provides some helpful suggestions especially targeted toward widows who may not have been involved in long-term financial planning. Francis also explains what a fiduciary is and why it matters that the advisor you pick should adhere to a fiduciary standard when helping you achieve your goals for financial security and peace of mind.
Taking Necessary Steps at a Time of Loss
“The loss of a spouse is up there with the most challenging experiences you might face in this lifetime,” Francis writes. “With the understandable barrage of emotions that you might face, it is probably hard to imagine taking concrete steps to secure your financial future. But this is exactly the time to do just that. It is what will put you on the path to emerging from this loss with the tools, skills and strength to be at the helm of your finances moving forward.”
Francis urges everyone—but especially women—to take the steps needed now in order to feel more in control of their financial situation. And to do that, it’s ideal to seek out help and wisdom to answer your toughest questions, settle your spouse’s estate, close accounts, transfer assets to your name, establish a new budget, and other important concerns.
This is where a good financial advisor can step in.
Two Decades of Independent Money Management
The statistics are clear: women are the most likely to end up in charge of their finances after a spouse passes away. Francis explains, “Various surveys show that nearly 80 percent of women will at some point become the sole financial decision-maker in their life.” She adds, “To that point, half of all women who become widowed in the U.S. are under age 59. Since the average life expectancy for women is 79, that means those women often find themselves managing their finances by themselves for at least two decades.”
Of course, every individual is different. While some may feel comfortable managing on their own, those needing fiscal advice would be well served to seek out professional help. “For those seeking guidance on key issues like estate planning, tax planning and long-term financial planning and investing, it’s crucial to work with a financial advisor who understands your unique needs and goals,” Francis writes.
Everyday Expenses versus Long-Term Planning
It’s not like women don’t deal with the everyday finances of their household already, but the stats paint a very specific picture: “A recent study conducted by UBS found that 85 percent of women manage everyday expenses, but only 23 percent take the lead when it comes to long-term financial planning,” Francis writes. She explains that, though many women are involved and proactive in household finances, they may not have as much experience with long-term planning and managing investments.
How to find a financial planner to help? Francis writes, “You may already have an established a relationship with a financial advisor before your spouse’s death. If you like that person, then it’s time to schedule a meeting with them to get ‘reacquainted’ and discuss what your future financial plans are now.”
But if you do decide to find a different planner who fits you better, you’re not alone: “80 percent of widows switch financial advisors within a year of their husband’s death,” according to Francis. And this is usually because the previous planner actually had more of a relationship with the deceased spouse, not with the widow.
Finding an Advisor You Can Trust
Finding a financial advisor that you can trust and build a relationship with is worth taking some time and research. Francis writes, “Truth be told, anyone may call themselves a ‘financial advisor.’ Just because someone says they are a ‘financial advisor’ doesn’t mean that they have any specific education, background, experience or certification which actually qualifies them to give financial advice.”
Yes, navigating the world of financial planners can be tough. As Francis puts it, there are “advisors, brokers, broker-dealers, certified financial planners, chartered financial analysts, certified investment management analysts, investment advisors and wealth managers, to name a few.” Yikes!
But Francis cuts through the confusion to explain, “The bottom line is that the financial advisor you choose should be a fiduciary, fee-only advisor.” This is the best way to make sure that your financial advisor is trustworthy and acting in your best interest, always.
The “Fiduciary Standard” Explained
The fiduciary standard is in place to make sure that any planner who adheres to it is only acting with your interests front and center. This is the gold standard in financial planning.
“Others who call themselves advisors are only held to a ‘suitability standard,’” Francis writes, “meaning they only must suggest products that are suitable for you — even if they’re more expensive and earn them a higher commission.”
It’s also ideal to look for a fee-only advisor, because “fee-only financial advisors earn money from the fees you pay for their services. These fees may be charged as a percentage of the assets they manage for you, as an hourly rate or as a flat rate. Almost all fee-only advisors are fiduciaries.”
Understanding how your planner earns their money is vital. This way you know that their wisdom is sound and not based on up-selling you products you don’t need. “In fact, alarm bells should go off if the advisor you are interviewing does not clearly explain how they get compensated,” Francis warns. “If their fee structure is unclear, ask them to clarify the details.”
You Deserve Positive Professional Attention
Frequency is a huge part of the planner-client relationship. Francis explains, “You should also be on high alert if they propose to meet with you only once a year. A yearly meeting is insufficient, especially after the loss of a spouse. You deserve an advisor who will be available to you through all the ups and downs of the new path you’re forging.”
In fact, your relationship with your advisor should always be as positive as possible. You should feel heard, understood, and supported in your financial journey. Anything less is unacceptable.“Remember,” Francis writes, “you’re paying for your advisor’s time and services just as you would with a doctor or lawyer. You should always feel encouraged to ask questions and empowered with the knowledge that you’re in the driver’s seat of your financial life.”
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(originally reported at www.cnbc.com)