Your Clients and Grief
A couple weeks ago, we wrote about the unique needs of older clients and how you can best serve them through their lives’ transitions. Naturally, many of these clients will be dealing with the loss of a spouse at some point. You are more than capable of dealing with the financial component of this event, but there’s more to it than that. As their dedicated CPA, you have built relationships with these clients and you pride yourself on providing exemplary service to everyone who comes to your firm. As such, you’ll probably be dealing with the human side of this equation.
By no means are death and loss limited to your older clients, but the elderly are bound to deal with it more often than most. An article from The Journal of Accountancy addressed this topic and offered some suggestions.
Many of us are uncomfortable with this sort of thing. Don’t worry, you’re not expected to double as your clients’ therapist, but their emotions may come out and it’s helpful for both of you to be prepared for that. This is especially true of your longstanding clients. You’ve gotten to know them, their families, their businesses, and they may feel comfortable sharing with you. Here are some things to say – and not to say – to someone experiencing grief.
The experts recommend letting the client say as much or as little as they like about the loved one’s death before you jump into the business side of the things. Sometimes, you’ll be meeting for the first time with the spouse of your deceased client. Take a little time to get to know your new client. Perhaps the new client has different needs or may need things explained in more detail. This will take a little longer, but it’s part of continuing that relationship you’ve developed.
For the financial aspects of this loss, have a checklist ready to give the clients that details the steps they’ll need to take, including how to deal with asset appraisal and the deceased client’s tax return. If they’re putting off these items, give them a call periodically to remind them. Some CPAs will offer to accompany their clients when they meet with the estate planning attorney, but this is optional. Some clients will appreciate this and others won’t find it necessary.
What has been your experience with grieving clients and their needs? Be sure to share with your colleagues – every CPA needs to be prepared for this at some point.
To read more, see the article from The Journal of Accountancy.