Many women’s issues are uncomfortable to talk about – topics like pregnancy loss or pay inequality. We are getting better at recognizing and discussing many of these topics, but there is one issue the Bible specifically calls us to not only speak about but to act upon: widowhood.
How are we doing on this one?
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1:27 (NIV)
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
– Isaiah 1:17
Scripture puts caring for widows on par with guarding oneself against corruption. It says we (God’s people) are supposed to be pleading on behalf of widows, making their case when they aren’t being heard. James calls this “pure religion.” And those of us who are (or will be) in a position to advise widows have an even greater responsibility to be prepared for this and act wisely.
But are we doing it? When my family lost my father to ALS 15 years ago, my experience made me far more aware we might not be.
My experience as financial advisor and widow’s daughter
My mother, Miriam Neff, suddenly became a widow at a much younger age than expected. To her surprise, when she began looking for any kind of assistance – emotional, financial, logistical – she found a void in resources available to her. On top of fresh grief, my mother was financially vulnerable and lacked the knowledge and confidence needed to thrive in this new phase of her life.
So, we put our heads together. Along with my mother’s background in counseling and my degrees in law and finance, we built a website to fill that void – Widow Connection. The site informs, encourages, and equips widows with skills needed for economic independence.
How about you? How can you help widows in your community? Here are a few things we learned from our own experience and from talking with other widows:
- Understand she feels vulnerable – In researching our book, Wise Women Managing Money, my mother and I spoke with women from all walks of life. And no matter their status – single, married, divorced, widowed, from a scarcity of wealth to a surplus – we found most women felt financially vulnerable, whether due to a lack of knowledge, confidence, or protection.
- Respect that she needs time to grieve – Widows we spoke with talked about finding themselves in a position of navigating grief while being pressured to make colossal financial decisions. Oftentimes, widows are handed a large amount of money or assets, and they don’t get to ignore it or put it aside while they grieve because it is public knowledge. Think of military spouses, for example. The armed forces’ death gratuity and pension programs are a Google search away, if not already common knowledge.
As my mom likes to say, chances are, if you have come into money, someone’s going to know it, and someone’s going to want it. From extended family to friends to charities, every widow has someone more interested in what she has gained than who she has lost.
- Offer to help when she’s ready – A widow is, more likely than not, distanced from financial advisors and lacking financial confidence due to being shut out of financial conversations until this pivotal point in her life. And, research shows, a widow who has felt shut out of the conversation is likely to choose a new advisor within a year of her husband’s death. Wise advisors will learn to first show compassion while a widow is grieving and be available for questions until it is the right time to begin talking about financial plans.
- Encourage and empower her to make decisions – Making significant financial decisions for the first time is daunting. But investing, giving, and passing a bit of financial security to the next generation does not have to be complicated. Encourage her by sharing simple set-and-forget investing techniques. Take some pressure off by telling her that giving can be about starting small. And empower her to be confident in her decisions. Make sure she knows those around her are okay with her answer being “no” or “not now,” and that they will gladly give her time to figure it out.
- Recognize the important role of the widow in the transfer of wealth – Traditionally, when we think of passing wealth from one generation to the next, we envision a father or grandfather divvying up his assets near the end of his life. However, more likely than not, that task will be left to his widow. When thinking and talking about financial finish lines, be sure to include the spouse, who may ultimately be left with implementing the plan. Be sure the goals are her goals too.
Scripture tells us God is a widow’s defender (Psalm 68:5). But we, too, are supposed plead the widow’s cause. If, as Christians, we are going to be God’s advocates for widows, we must guard her time of mourning with patience and reverence. Then, we must empower her and respect her decision-making. If we have financial wisdom, let’s offer it with open hands, knowing she is now the ultimate gatekeeper of her family’s assets and legacy.