How to Manage Finances After the Loss of a Loved One

Today I wanted to do a real deep dive around some of the emotions that can come up for women who have gone through that process of losing a loved one. I’m delighted because today I’ve got one of my very good friends with us, Julie Flynn, who is a qualified financial planner and financial coach.

Julie supports women who have lost their partners, to manage their money with confidence and envisage a new future. We wanted to talk about the conversation about how you actually go about managing your finances after the loss of a loved one. For those of you that are regular readers will know how much I talk about; money is emotional.

There are so many different emotions that we connect in with money, of happiness and joy and pleasure and value. But then also there can be some negative emotions connected with money. Obviously when somebody goes through a situation of losing a partner, there can be some significant emotions. I wanted to talk about on the podcast today with Julie. So a massive welcome to Julie to the podcast.

Have you managed to enjoy some of the sunshine that we’ve just had streaming through on the 15th September, as we recording this.

I can confirm it’s not raining in Glasgow. which is the equivalent of sunshine!

Which part of Scotland do you live in?

We’re on the west coast, part of the country that is currently in lock down again.

How are you finding that?

I think nothing’s quite as extreme as severe as the first time it happened. My catchphrase is, you’re always better the second time you do something. That is ringing true for us just now.

This is Julie’s first podcast episode, and I’m so proud of her right now, literally beaming with pride because it takes a lot of confidence to share your mission with the world and to share your expertise. I’m really excited to bring Julie on the show because Julie has got a lot of experience with actually helping women specifically in this area.

Julie, tell us just a little bit about your background. How long have you been a financial planner for?

I’ve been talking money since 1998. I would say that the first 15 years of that I was very caught up in all the technical dull stuff. The great news is that money isn’t actually that complicated.

That’s what I’m on a mission to do now is to demystify money and to help people who are going through, what’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. To come through that, realizing that there are so many possibilities still out there, the world is full of opportunities.

I love that. Your mission is just incredible. What I love is there are so many women that are faced with scenarios of losing loved ones. Statistically, we live longer than men so a lot of women will go through at some point in their life a significant change to their relationship status. Whether that’s a divorce or whether that’s the loss of a loved one through grief.

It’s really important to talk about the emotions that come up during those stages and how do you actually manage your finances during that period in your life. Julie is not a massive fan of the traditional grief cycle.

Can you just talk us through what is the traditional grief cycle and what are your views on that?

I think the actual grief cycle, I don’t have an issue with. It’s when it’s taken out of context. I think the model is that you go through denial and then anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. This was by a Swiss psychiatrist on a very specific group of people. I’ve not actually come across anybody that has gone through the cycle like that. Grief is not linear. It’s not a cycle.

I think the way I would describe it, it’s like a big bowl of spaghetti. You could spend years feeling angry or years feeling denial, or you could work your way through all of those things in space of an hour. I think the suggestion that it’s some kind of process that you go through, I don’t think that’s helpful because it’s suggesting that this is what should happen. If that’s not what you’re experiencing, then you’re comparing yourself to something and that’s not going to feel good.

One of the things that I’ve come across in research and study, and I think I much prefer, is a sort of an attitude or approach, is Kathleen Rehl. She’s got the three stages of widowhood.

  • Stage one is grief and that’s where you just feel numb.
  • Stage two is growth when you’re on a journey.
  • Stage three is a state of grace when there’s this transformation.

Not everybody’s going to move through all three stages. Not everybody wants to move through all three stages, but it’s just being aware. If you find yourself or, you know someone that’s lost their partner, it may be really helpful for them to throw that grief cycle thing away. It doesn’t mean anything. However you’re grieving, that’s the right way for you.


Thank you for sharing that. So a really interesting way of approaching what can be a significantly traumatic time in somebody’s life? What do you think are the biggest challenges, Julie, when you connect with women then who have just lost a partner?

I think probably in some respects, it’s a little bit like what I’m doing today, it’s their first time. Even if you’ve had a loss before, if you’ve lost a partner before, it’s the first time you’ve lost that partner.

What happens when you’re doing something for the first time? You feel very vulnerable and that can be to different extents. Once that happens, changes go on in the brain. The part or your brain that controls rational thinking logic language, that’s going to go on a holiday. When you can’t remember things or you have misplaced stuff, that’s completely normal.

The women that I work with, I think just having someone explain that to them, that’s such a relief because you’re sitting there thinking, am I going crazy? Your rational brain is going to go offline for a little while. It’s not permanent. It will come back. Bearing that in mind, everybody’s circumstances are different. My experience has shown me that there is some sort of general do’s and don’ts that apply to pretty much everybody.

What are the things that you should be doing?

Things that would be really helpful to do; enlist help. I’m a big fan of delegating because if your brain’s in overwhelm, then just getting someone else to sit down and do something with you can help.

First thing is to try and get some kind of filing system. You’re going to be going through a lot of paperwork. So it could be, get some ring binders and colour code it. Have to hand the bank statements. Then you might need to refer to things like your utility bills, credit card statements, anything to do with pensions. Put all that in one place, if you can, and colour coding helps.

If you’re like me, I’m terrible for losing bits of paper. So I avoid paper like the plague, or if I do have paper, the first thing I’ll do is scan it with my phone and have a folder set up on your phone. As soon as you’ve got critical bit of paper, scan it and have that in the folder.

That’s a great idea. Do you use an app to scan your documents in?

I use ScanBot but you can just take a photo of it and then if you’ve got an iPhone or something you can set up a folder and you can colour code those as well.

One of the other things I like doing, because I’m a fan of delegating, if you’ve got something like an iPhone, you can do family sharing. Take my mum as an example. She can share the folders with me on iCloud so that I know where stuff is. When she phones me up in a flap, I don’t know where this year’s pension statement is. I can go back and look, it’s in there.

That’s a great idea and a great tip actually, just for people that have got aged parents to help them to better organise their finances. That makes that process easier than if it comes to a point where maybe we have to step in as power of attorney or in any given emergency situation, for example, a change of health. In actual fact for everybody, to organise our finances, whether you’re reading this in your twenties or your thirties or you’re listening and you’ve got aged parents. That’s a great tip.

If we’re on that topic, as well is passwords. Make sure you’ve got a way of capturing passwords.

Any little tips around capturing passwords?

I use a thing called The Peace of Mind Planner, which is a document where you can keep all this stuff. If anybody wants to go on to Amazon, there’s a really good book, not necessarily tastefully titled, depending on the audience called “I’m dead. Now What?”

Managing finances after loss. I wanted to do a real deep dive around some of the emotions that can come up for women who have gone through that process of losing a loved one.

To the point. Love it.

And it’s going to capture all of those little details that you wouldn’t think about. Passwords, if you’ve got any pets, what would you want to have happen to your pets after you’ve gone? Things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of.

That’s great. So organizing your finances then is a great one. Is there anything else that people in that situation could be doing with their finances?

I think then the other thing with regards to money, I tend to break things down into three categories. This is just because I know that there’s only so much the brain can cope with at any one time. What I do with my clients is we’ll sit down and we’ll break all of the things that need doing into three lists.

The first list is called now. On the now list, we’re going to have things like arranging the funeral, paying for the funeral, tying up the estate and getting the wills together. If you’re in England, you’ve got to go through probate. If you’re in Scotland, you’re going through confirmation. If there’s been any life cover, claiming on that. If there’s any entitlement to a spouses pension. They’re the key things that we deal with now.

Then it’s your short term cash flow. So that’s about all we can cope with while we’re in the grief numb stage. As we progress and we can see that we’re starting to move into the growth phase, then a lot more of the cognitive functions come back online.

Your cortex is working again a lot better. That’s the time then to look at general financial planning. When you’re looking at that, I think the way your finances were organized beforehand, that was for a couple. The circumstances are different now. It’s highly unlikely that the way you have things organized before are going to be right for you as an individual moving forward.

I would say that would be the time then to sit down and maybe look at investment strategies, any retirement plan, if you haven’t already retired, looking at your own estate plan, but this is much further down the road.

What I love about that as well is often I find, particularly when we’re talking about couples and money, is that people seem to have this view that in a relationship it’s about having joint goals and everything being set up together.

There’s obviously lots of merits of having your finances together, but also I’m a massive believer that in a relationship it’s two whole people coming together in a relationship. So when there’s the loss of one of those people in that relationship, you’re still you as a whole person in terms of your financial situation. Although obviously you’re then dealing with all the emotional side and that can make you feel like you’ve lost part of you.

Indeed from an emotional perspective, you may well feel that grief, that you’ve lost part of your soul. But I think with finances, it’s when you build your financial plan together, actually this is two whole people when you should have your own values and your own plans and your own mission and all the things that you want to do individually, as well as together.

So I guess when we lose a significant loved one in our life, or indeed, whether you’ve been through a change in relationship, maybe a divorce or separation, it comes back to what do you want for you? What lights you up? What’s gonna give you happiness?

Do you find that, Julie that in the work that you do with helping women in terms of envisaging this new future, is that the stage when they’re ready to start thinking about that? Or does that happen much later?

I would say that that’s more in my third column. I think in the second column what you tend to find is, and studies have shown this, typically women have got a much better grasp on the day to day finances, but less so on the long term investments.

That middle phase, we can spend a lot of time educating and learning about, you hold this investment, do you know why, do you know what it does? So it’s very much a making sure that they understand what they’ve got because when we understand something, we feel safer, we feel more successful.

The timing’s really important because if it’s been your husband or your partner, that’s been a lead driver in picking or been involved with these investments or whatever financial arrangements, it’s not unusual for the surviving spouse to feel an emotional attachment to those decisions. I’ve seen this where they have to battle with their sense of loyalty if they change it. You need to be ready to sit down and take ownership. It’s the reality that it’s me on my own. They were right for us as a couple. I’m now in a place to think what’s right for me.

Then we move to what I would call the some day column. That’s really when we’re moving into this transformational phase. That’s when you’re at a place where you’ve survived grief and you’re growing because you’re learning more about how to make long term financial decisions.

But the transformational phase, that’s magical because you see people come through all these challenges and there’s all these things that they thought were not possible. Now they’re doing it. That’s when you get to sit down and say, all right, what about you? What’s important to you? When you’ve been in a relationship, your identities merge. It’s just necessarily that you have to compromise. That’s where all of a sudden you see a light bulb go on. It’s like this potential there. So there’s all those things that are possible that they could do. Let’s talk about what brings meaning to you? What’s going to give you purpose? We can do some really great advanced planning and coaching. I just get such a buzz off of that.

I know you’ve done a lot of work on developing your own skills as a planner to really bring that transformation to life. It’s not just transformation for the client, it’s transformation for us too, as planners because, like you say, when you see that transformation, you just go to bed knowing you’ve done a great job and everything is just magical.

On that note Julie, and I know we have some financial planners listening to this podcast, how can financial planners better help clients through those stages to get to that transformational part and that relationship with the client?

The key thing is just understanding that in the initial phase, it’s really hard for them to make decisions. Don’t ask them to make any big decisions. We want, what’s known as the decision freedom. Let’s just give them space. I think it’s also other little things that you do.

The way the brain processes information in those initial stages, what I found as financial planners, we don’t want to, but we are guilty of producing 30 page reports. So absolutely categorically avoid that. But what does work really well is draw a picture.

I’ve got clients where they have three bits of paper, one’s called now, one’s called later, one’s called someday. It’s keeping it as simple and the brain seems to be able to process visual a lot better. So if you can find a way to just draw a quick sketch of where they’re at now then that’s something they’ll hold onto. When they start to feel a bit uncomfortable, a bit nervous that they can just go back to that and go, okay, that’s okay. It just registered in the brain differently.

The other thing I would suggest, I know this because my clients have fed it back to me, is use the deceased’s name. Talk about them because what they want to do so desperately is talk about them. Lots of people avoid it. If you’ve known them as well is sharing memories.

That’s a really good point. I’ve experienced this myself recently. Not because of a loss of a loved one, but a breakup in a relationship, someone very close to me has had a breakup in their relationship. Sometimes it’s just difficult to know, what is the right thing to say in this? It always reminds me of that video on YouTube, the nail in the head YouTube video, where this lady is just talking to her partner on the couch and he’s just not listening. He wants to come up with a solution and she’s like, it’s just so painful.

At this point you don’t actually know she’s got a nail in her head until she turns her head round, and then you can see it. That always reminds you that sometimes the power of listening, the power in that in listening is just that holding that space for someone to feel safe and protected and listened to and heard. Sometimes they don’t have to say anything. It can just be holding that space.

We talked about what to do, Julie. Is there anything that we shouldn’t do in that situation?

I’ve got two cast iron things that we don’t do. Do your best to stop them from doing this. Paperwork. Please don’t throw it away in the first year. I’ve seen my mum do this and lots of my clients do this. They want to tidy things up, sort things out. They’re trying to impose order. I guarantee you’re going to throw away something that you’re going to need. So resist the urge.

Alternatively, if you’ve taken a picture of it with your phone then go nuts, throw it all away. But do your best. And you’ll misplace things as well. They will turn up 12 months later. Keep a little notebook of any companies that you have to deal with. So make a note of the time, the day you spoke to them, which company it was, who you spoke to. I promise you next week you won’t remember.

That’s because the brain is trying to process trauma and it’s being flooded with emotions. As you said, Julie, the brain then can’t cope with anything really because it’s flooded with too much emotion. It is so overwhelmed with grief and emotion that It can’t make any decisions.

So that’s a really good tip Julie in terms of making sure you keep notes. I really like that one. Thank you.

It’s funny. I was talking to my mum last week about this. She was so intrigued by what I do for living. She’ll go, why are you doing that? We were talking about how hard it was after my dad died and I was talking to her about some of the tips and some of the things I do recommend, and she’s like, I can’t remember anything of that first year. I can see the light going on in her eyes as I’ve told her what I did. I did all this for her so she didn’t need to worry about it.

I think this next one is obvious. Don’t make any irrevocable decisions. I think probably the most common one that you’ll come across is should I sell the house? Should I move? There’s a variety of reasons why that one comes up so often. From the really traumatic point of view that if they died in the house, you can see that is a really strong driver to leave, but I would encourage people to try and stay in the house for at least a year. There are things you can do to try and make that easier for yourself. You could change bedrooms, you could decorate.

Another one is the grown up children want the mum to move in with them because they want to take care of her, and in that first year you really want to be taken care of. But if you’re moving away from your support network and everything that’s familiar, that’s going to trigger these painful memories. The first year that that’s going to be really painful, and in the second year, but there’s a time where the memories also bring comfort.

That’s really good advice. That reminds me of a little tool that I use with my one-to-one clients, which is a comfort box. You create a box and inside that box you place things that mean something special to you or make you feel safe and secure.

In my comfort box, for example, it might be a nice warm blanket, a candle, a journal, some nice fluffy socks, some nice chocolate, just things that make me feel good.

I think that’s such a great piece of advice is to not to make any irreversible decisions. You need to find something that makes you feel good and safe and feeling secure and as comfortable as you can.

I guess that’s what you want to do is as a child as well, right? If you can see your parent going through grief, you just want to wrap them up in a big blanket, don’t you and help them.

I’ve been that child. The first couple of years it’s surviving and just doing what you need to, to get by. But when you’re in that state of mind, is that the best place to be making permanent long term decisions? Probably not.

Is there anything else you wanted to share Julie, at the end of our interview today? Any other little pearls of wisdom or any tips that you wanted to share with the listeners today?

No matter how tough it is, you’re going to be amazed at how you come through it. Or if it’s your mum or someone that’s close to you, there’s that desire to protect them, look after them. But you’re going to be stunned at just how much they can achieve.

I love that. Is there anything that people can do who might be reading this thinking, well, I haven’t lost a loved one, but the fear is what would happen if I lost somebody?

Is there anything that people can do in advance, planning beforehand? Lots of the tips I think you shared today, people could be implementing before the event actually happens, organizing your paperwork, for example. But is there anything else that you think Julie, that if someone’s fearful about what would I do if that happened to me, that they could do in advance?

Oh, absolutely. Apart from just working with women that have lost their partner, you do come across a situation where you unfortunately have couples that are anticipating it because there’s a terminal illness.

I would say this actually applies to any couple, regardless of your health. Talk about money. We don’t talk about it. I’m a financial planner and I don’t talk about it that much. I do more than I used to now that I understand how important it is, but I think this is one of your tips isn’t it Catherine, having money dates.

We’ve got a little help sheet that tells you how to start conversations with your partner about money. This is not really so much necessarily planning for one of you no longer being here, but it’s just a really healthy thing to do in a relationship to talk about what your values are, what money means to you. I think if you start that conversation, that’s going to leave you in a really healthy place for preparing to look after each other, regardless of whether you’re both here.

Yeah. Lovely. It’s so true, isn’t it? We say that money is a taboo subject. It’s not money that’s the taboo subject. It’s the meaning that we attach to money that becomes a taboo subject. That’s why no matter what your profession, whether you’re a financial professional listening to this or an accountant, it’s irrelevant of our career choice. It’s the fact that we all hold a meaning that we attached to money. That’s the bit that we feel uncomfortable talking about. So the more we can feel comfortable talking about that with ourselves and with our partners, have a money date with yourself as well as having a money date with your partner, is a really great positive thing to do for yourselves.

So thank you so much for sharing that, Julie, and thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Any final words of wisdom, or if anyone wants to connect with you, where can they find you Julie?

First of all, Catherine, thank you very, very much for giving me the opportunity to come on and talk to your readers. If people want to connect with me, they can find me on Twitter @JulieAFlynn. Also you can find me on LinkedIn as well, Julie Flynn, IFA.

Fantastic. We look forward to hearing lots more from you in the coming months Julie. I know you’ve got some very exciting changes coming up in your business in terms of the financial coaching space. I’m really excited to see what’s coming for you.


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