As a financial advisor, I see grieving widows who have no idea how much money they have or how to manage it, and it never should have come to that

As a financial advisor, I see grieving widows who have no idea how much money they have or how to manage it, and it never should have come to that
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  • Vanessa Martinez is a managing director and partner at The Lerner Group, where she guides families through all aspects of their wealth.
  • The following is an excerpt from her book, "Family Value at Risk: Inclusive Communication To Pass On Your Family's Wealth And Legacy."
  • In it, she shares how widowed clients aren't prepared to take over their late spouses' finances because they were left out of the financial or estate planning process.
  • Martinez includes advice on how women can advocate for themselves, especially when it comes to making financial decisions and finding resources to help them navigate wealth management effectively.

In the earlier part of my financial career, I attended many events where I socialized with couples. Most times, once the couple found out I was a banker, the husband would start chatting about his investments and the wife would visibly shut down. I could see the pain on her face as she would listen silently to the discussion, feeling either that it wasn't her place to comment or that she was too embarrassed due to her lack of knowledge to the subjects discussed.

As a financial advisor, I see grieving widows who have no idea how much money they have or how to manage it, and it never should have come to that
"Family Value at Risk: Inclusive Communication to Pass On Your Family's Wealth and Legacy," by JR Gondeck and Vanessa N. Martinez.Courtesy of ForbesBooks

"Don't worry," the husband would often say to me with a wink, "I'll explain it to her later."

Not only are comments like that unnecessary, they are incredibly detrimental to the family's wealth. Wouldn't it be so much better if the spouse was equally informed? Isn't it likely the spouse could be just as capable of stewarding the family's wealth — if not more so — as statistically it's more likely the husband will die before her?
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At first, I'd nod along, not doing much in the moment to help educate the spouse.

I understood our society's financial culture had long been the domain of men. A part of me accepted that, unwillingly. But today, I just can't accept it.

Over the years, I've sat in too many meetings with grieving widows who don't understand the first thing about their family's financial future.
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After a spouse's death, women sit and cry with me, telling me they have no idea what to do next. It's heartbreaking to know that they're trying to mourn, but they can't fully grieve because they don't know what they'll do tomorrow or when their next bill needs to be paid. This is the catalyst I needed to help motivate families to have inclusive communication between spouses. I understand that this will take an adoption period, but it must start somewhere.

Read more: I'm a financial advisor to high-income earners at Google, Salesforce, and Microsoft. Here's where I tell them to put their money to set themselves up for early retirement.

Women: We are our own best advocate

In the past, it was common for women to be disengaged when it came to the ins and outs of their financial options. Financial planning was mostly the domain of husbands and male advisors.
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Today, society has shifted, and more women are creating and taking responsibility for their overall wealth. Now, we must participate in our own financial future. Like many women, I believe we must take on the responsibility of educating ourselves. We cannot depend entirely on our spouses to teach us what we need to know.

We have so many resources today that were not available to previous generations, such as the internet, financial seminars, and female wealth advisors like myself and the women on the team. We must utilize these resources to maximize our understanding to better manage our wealth with our partners and on our own.

As women, we can sometimes feel a little intimidated by certain people, and sadly, sometimes our own husbands can be among them. That could mean we don't confide in that person as a resource when we need more information or the comfort level hasn't been built.
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I want women to know they can count on me personally, as a woman, and on our team as a whole. If you are unsure about what something means, or what to do about it, you never have to feel dumb asking questions. As advisors, we are here to educate. We didn't always have the answers. We've had to learn over time. We're still learning every day, and we can help others do the same.

What we cannot do is accept the status quo, because acceptance comes with the risks we describe in this book. Instead, we must learn to be our own advocate.

Read more: This couple paid off $114,000 of debt in less than 2 years — then saved up $431,000. Here are the side hustles they started and how much money they made from each one.
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Confused and confronted with countless decisions, forced to make them at the worst possible time, and without the years of experience and guidance their husband received from participating in the family's wealth management, they feel like the questions never end. How do I pay a bill? Will we have enough to live on? How do I make sense of our family's situation?

In those low moments, it's especially difficult for spouses to trust my guidance, because they've only talked to me a handful of times. It might have been at an event or simply before passing the phone to their husband when I returned his call.

This painful scenario is endemic in our financial industry. It's one experienced by many families.
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Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Forbes Books, from "Family Value at Risk: Inclusive Communication to Pass on Your Family's Wealth and Legacy" by JR Gondeck and Vanessa Martinez. Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

As a financial advisor, I see grieving widows who have no idea how much money they have or how to manage it, and it never should have come to that
Vanessa Martinez.Andrew Collins
Vanessa Martinez is a partner and managing director at The Lerner Group, where she guides families through all aspects of their wealth. Prior to joining The Lerner Group, Martinez spent seven years in Guatemala managing international lumber sales throughout Europe, Canada and Central America; all while earning her BBA from the University of San Carlos of Guatemala. After returning to Chicago, she received her MBA from North Park University.
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Vanessa shifted her focus to financial services at JPMorgan in 2008 where she found her passion for helping clients navigate the financial landscape. Vanessa holds the FINRA Series 6, 7, 63, and 65 licenses.

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