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Giving a Widow Permission to Move On

December 15, 2017

This time we hear from Cathy Curtis, founder and CEO of Oakland, Calif.-based Curtis Financial Planning. She tells the story of how she encouraged a client who had lost her husband to make the move that was best for her.

I’d been working with a client – a widow in her 70s – for almost a decade when she started talking about moving into a retirement home. She was overweight and suffering from severe arthritis, and it was getting harder for her to move around or stand for long stretches. At the same time, this woman led an active social life. She loved hosting people and got together with friends for bridge every week.

It was one of her daughters who initially brought up the idea of a retirement home. They’d found a place that looked promising – a community that was in the process of being built and wouldn’t open for another couple of years. It was in a beautiful location near my client’s current home and billed itself as a great place for socially active seniors.

Still, my client was resistant to moving. She’d inherited a lot of antique furniture that held a lot of sentimental value but her daughters weren’t interested in it and she was struggling with the thought of selling it. Beyond that, she’d become attached to her house, which she’d lived in for many years with her husband before he died. She felt like leaving would mean giving up that part of her life. It almost felt like a betrayal, she told me.

Because I’d been working with this woman for years, I knew how much money she’d save by selling her house and moving into this retirement home. I also saw that daily living was becoming harder for her as she aged, and that it wouldn’t be long before she’d have no choice but to enter some sort of assisted living situation.

For these reasons I encouraged her to make a plan to move into the retirement home. I demonstrated how moving would help her financially and I offered to help her sell some of her furniture. I suggested she put a deposit on the home, since doing so would give her a discount on rent and free parking for life. It was also refundable if she decided to change her mind.

She took my advice, and ended up moving into the retirement home. She told me her conversations with me had helped give her permission to leave the home she’d shared with her husband. I hadn’t realized this was what I was doing but when she said this it made sense to me. Sometimes giving permission to make a big move is the most important role we can play as advisors — especially for widows and widowers who may have lost their most important conversational partner with the death of their spouse.

Understanding this fact has impacted the way I deal with my other clients. Another client of mine, also a widow in her 70s, has been living in the same house for decades. She’s healthy and active but she recently told me she’s noticing it’s getting harder and harder for her to get up the stairs. Since she’d always seemed so vibrant I’d hesitated to suggest she move. But after my experience with the other client I realized how important it is to be proactive when it comes to living situations.

Relocating is hard but being forced to move can be downright painful. I had a series of conversations with her about moving and she’s currently searching for an apartment without stairs.

All clients bring emotions into their financial decision-making. But widows and widowers often come with very specific emotional attachments. As advisors, we can help our clients work through their emotions by acting as important decision-making partners and taking an active role in their lives.