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Gathering Our Financial Family Around Us

By Marie Burns November 08, 2020 Family

Talking around the dinner table as a young girl is where I heard the story of my grandma Helen’s first husband. It turned out that 1941, the year of the Pearl Harbor attack, was also a year that will live in infamy in the history of my family.

A Family Forever Changed

That year, my grandma Helen went to meet my grandfather at his office building for lunch in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But when she got to his building, it was surrounded by police cars and flashing lights!

She ran into the building, took the elevator to the nineth floor, barely stepped off the elevator when a policeman stopped her and said, “Hey lady, where you going?”

She said, “I’m going to meet my husband James for lunch.”

“Well I’m sorry lady you can’t do that!”

“But why not?” She asked.

The officer responded, “Because he’s dead!”

My poor grandmother! She told me that when she heard those words, she was looking down the hallway, and there was a big picture window looking out over the city. All she wanted to do in that moment was throw herself out that window. She said, “Marie, if I could’ve, I would’ve done it in a heartbeat!”

You see, my grandma and grandpa had been young sweethearts. They got married, had two little children at home, and she was actually pregnant with my father, their third child, when all of this happened. These were good, hard-working people.

That day, James was phone sitting for one of his buddies, an attorney, who also had an office in the building.

So, my grandfather was waiting there at the attorney’s desk, looking out the window with his back to the door. At that moment, a disgruntled client of the attorney’s, who had just gotten out of jail, came into the attorney’s office. He saw a man sitting in the attorney’s chair, and shot my grandfather in the back and killed him!

That left my grandma, an innocent housewife, a widow at age 28… and suddenly in charge of all their finances.

My heart was forever changed, and I became more keenly aware of women who experienced the loss of a spouse. My other grandmother, Grandma Margaret, also lost her husband before retirement, when they were both in their early 50s.

So, when I started working in the financial services industry, I was drawn to helping women after seeing the transitions both of my grandmothers had experienced.

Our Financial Family

Just like we often have our family around us at the dinner table, Thanksgiving, and other holidays, or in times of need, we also should think about having a financial family around us too. Experts in the areas of taxes, estate planning, insurance, and investments/planning can all have a positive influence on our ability to enjoy life without financial worry.

Just like any important service in your life, a good rule of thumb is to shop around. In addition, ask friends/family for their recommendations in selecting these professionals and then meet with at least two of them.

My sample book chapter this month talks about things to consider and ask when you are looking for an estate planning attorney, tax advisor, and financial advisor.

Don’t forget your “gut check” too. You want to feel comfortable with whomever you decide to trust with your financial life.

Most women leave their financial advisor within two years of losing a spouse to death or divorce. That is often due to never having felt connected with the advisor from the beginning, feeling overlooked or ignored in conversations, or an overall feeling of lack of trust that the advice was in the woman’s best interest and not the advisor’s.

Listening to Family

Just as we understand the wisdom and purpose of having a board oversee many organizations, companies, churches, etc., so too it is also wise to have your own personal board of directors.

Often well-intentioned family members give you advice, especially after you have experienced loss, and it may even be unsolicited advice as well. That is particularly the time that having an outside, objective, licensed “board of directors” of your own as your financial family can serve you well.

Many professionals write articles/blogs, give presentations, host a podcast, write books, or host special events to help educate people about their area of expertise. Attending or reading some of their information, can be helpful in understanding their philosophy and how it may match your needs.

Working with a trained professional, can also help protect you from the all too prevalent stories of elder fraud. In many such cases, a family member is the one abusing a senior financially (or verbally, physically, or otherwise).

Whereas if an expert from outside the family is involved in an ongoing way, red flags triggered by uncaring, fraudulent family members can often be detected and reported sooner for hopefully much less financial and emotional damage in the end.

Gathering our “family” around us can keep us safer and healthier in so many ways!

Have you experienced a family story that has impacted your financial wellness? What types of professionals make up your “financial family”? Are they a good fit for you? Have you learned about older women getting subjected to fraud by a family member? Please share your stories so we can learn from each other.

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The Author

Marie Burns, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), advocates for women’s financial health. She is an author of a financial checklist book series, speaker, podcast host and partners with clients to offer friendly financial advice in her independent practice Visit her at or

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