Calming The Storm When A Spouse Is Gone

They are the clients you look forward to seeing. Not only are they great people, but our conversations are quite diverse and intellectually stimulating. Gretchen admitted long ago that she wasn’t as interested in the financial matters as her husband, Trent. Although well-educated herself, Gretchen enjoyed focusing on environmental issues and educating young children. Trent was a scientist who, by nature, thrived on analyzing numbers. Their differences made them a perfect match. However, Trent voiced many times his concerns for his wife if he predeceased her. He was worried that she would need somewhere to turn and to someone she trusted to help her handle her finances.

Let’s go back almost three decades to when the relationship began, which was actually before my time. Triad Financial Advisors was building momentum as a financial planning firm in Greensboro. Carter Leinster, the founder, was busy establishing connections with local businesses and enticing employers to allow her to offer “lunch and learn” sessions to its key employees. It was during one of these seminars that Trent was introduced to Carter and to TFA. The concept of analyzing his current financial situation and projecting it forward was rather appealing to him. Thus, he decided that he and Gretchen would go through the financial planning process to ensure that they were on the right track to achieve their short-term and long-term goals.

Fortunately, Gretchen and Trent made a good team. They were saving diligently and living within their means. They were right on target to achieve their objectives. After the planning process, they became investment clients. They met with advisors at TFA regularly each year to talk about what mattered in their lives – children, grandchildren, travel, projects, etc - and how we could continue to enable them to live with intention. It was clear that they trusted TFA. After all, we know much more about them than simply how much they have invested with us. Over the next several years, Trent expressed his gratitude for the relationship that had been started back in the 1980s. He felt confident that his wife would have a resource if he weren’t around for her. However, this would be well down the road. You see, Trent was in excellent health based on what you could see from the outside. He was lean, very active, and looked like the picture of health. What he didn’t share with many people was the fact that he had some heart problems that he had been dealing with for many years. This was under control, or so he thought.

Fast forward to 2015 and to the week after our meeting on Thursday afternoon. It was Wednesday, and I wasn’t expecting to run into Trent and Gretchen. I’ll never forget this day, because it was the last time I would see Trent. I remember his smile that was always warm and sincere. They were dropping off copies of their tax returns they had forgotten to bring with them the week before. We exchanged pleasantries and went on our way. Two days later, I was meeting with prospective clients who had been introduced to TFA by Gretchen. The new prospects informed me that Trent was in surgery at that very moment. I learned later that day that Trent had passed away before making it to the operating room.

Of course his family and friends were devastated. We all were. This all happened so quickly. We never imagined that we would have to put Trent’s plan into action so soon. This wasn’t supposed to happen for many more years. He was a young and vibrant husband, father and grandfather. Gretchen needed guidance through the next few days and then through the next several months. With her children by her side, she met with me and the rest of her TFA team to make a list of what needed to be done and who would be responsible for taking care of each task. We ask our clients for copies of estate documents, income tax returns and statements on investments not managed by TFA such as annuities. We do this so we know what all of the pieces are. We can do a better job for our clients when we know what is involved, where it is held and what the client’s goals are.

The family was relieved to know that we could help organize and prioritize for them. I don’t remember how many times I heard, “I’m so glad I have a team helping me. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Even though the children don’t live close by, they stop by when they’re in town and are always appreciative of the things we do for their mom. They too see the value of having a team approach.

I take pride in helping Gretchen take control of her finances. She has grasped the ins and outs of her trust as well as her husband’s now irrevocable trust as well as her other accounts. She and I are working on consolidating her checking accounts to better track cash inflows and outflows. It’s nice to have pension incomes, but keeping track of these can be onerous. The grandchildren’s 529 plans haven’t fallen through the cracks either. Gretchen has taken an interest in how these accounts are performing, how they are invested and how much each grandchild is expected to need in the future. Gretchen once said, “Trent knew what he was doing when he decided to work with you. He knew you would take care of me.” I can only do so much. This story wouldn’t be a success without the active participation from Gretchen. She’s taking on her added role with grace and determination. At some point during every meeting, you’ll hear, “Oh good thinking! Yes, I need to take care of that.” And she does.

Not long ago, Gretchen and I, along with her Client Associate, went out to lunch to celebrate Trent’s life. It had been a little over a year since he passed away. We didn’t want this to be a sad occasion, and it wasn’t. It was a true celebration. I continue to look forward to my meetings with Gretchen and not just because she often brings in homemade cookies. I appreciate her attitude toward learning a role her husband had filled for so long. I don’t think I will ever get tired of hearing the gleeful words “oh thank you, thank you, thank you.” It makes my career more rewarding when I know I’ve made a positive impact in another person’s life.

Names have been changed for privacy purposes.

Triad Financial Advisors | 3623 N. Elm Street, Suite 102, Greensboro, NC 27455 | (336) 230-0071
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