Michelle Hensley

Michelle Hensley

Board Certified Executive Coach
MA Counseling
Life.Health.Disability Cal License #4016767
DMM (Daily Money Manager)
(714) 863-6058

If money is my friend as author Phil Laut touts in his book, Money Is My Friend, then why does it seem sometimes feel more like a foe? And, if money is my friend, why does it feel so difficult to manage, especially in certain seasons of life? How is it that a whopping 70 percent of sudden inheritors lose everything they have gained within three short years, and why do 70 percent of widows fire their financial advisors after the death of their spouse?

According to an article written by an incredible widowed financial advisor, Dr. Kathleen Rehl (Journal of Financial Service Professionals January 2016 issue), one of the fastest growing segments of the US population each year are widows – a fact I was shocked to discover. Rehl’s study also states that each year, approximately one million wwomen join this club that they never wished to sign up for - and the numbers are increasing as the boomers age. Seventy percent of all married baby boomer wives will experience widowhood. Eighty percent of men die married, yet 80 percent of women die single. The median age that a wife becomes a widow is 59.4, which means if you look at the actuarial tables, she will likely live at least another 15 years.

I was only 50 when I became a widow. I wasn’t alone in that like many other women, I had left my previous career to raise a family and support my husband in his occupation during our married life. As a result, when widowed, I found myself in the precarious position as a sudden inheritor without a job. Also, many women become dual inheritors, having income from both deceased spouses as well as parents, which causes additional confusion.As I came to discover, many women like me give away a large portion of the inherited monies because it feels as though we are profiting from our loss.

Like me, for many women entering this new and mostly unexpected phase in their lives, their top desire is to be heard and guided, not just coerced into what advisors think is right. These women who are inheritors or have lost finances through either divorce or the loss of a spouse need the time and space to grieve and the support to make informed decisions in light of their own unique values and desires.

Shortly after my husband passed away, I sat down at my gently-used, beautiful white office desk/sewing table, which held the sewing machine my late husband had given to me right after the birh of our first grandchild. Also on my desk was a statement that showed a loss of approximately $20,0000 in penalties for the early withdrawal of an annuity.

“What is that? What is an annuity?” I had no idea. Meanwhile, I looked at the stock market, which had declined quite a bit, called my advisor at the time and said, “I can’t do this.” I was completely distraught and unsure of what to do or whom to speak with. At the time, I had a family of seven children and nine grandchildren. Everything had been dependent on me since my husband had passed away six months earlier and I was completely overwhelmed, to say the least.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio explains that “it is emotion that allows you to mark things as good, bad or indifferent.”

Neurologists have discovered that when emotions and feelings are compromised, you lose the ability to make good decisions. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize winner in economics for his studies in human behavior and decisions, wrote that 90 percent of all financial decisions are made emotionally rather than logically.

In his book Yes or No (which I have read over and over again), author Spencer Johnson writes that most of us live in accordance with a disillusion or a false assumption, such as the ability to survive solely on social security while maintaining a similar lifestyle - so these incorrect thoughts shape our ability to make truly informed decisions or to plan accordingly.

After much trial and error, I have discovered that what I needed was to learn how to manage my money, make good decisions, increase my income, spend wisely, invest automatically and give generously.

In grief, loss of identity, or empty nest situations, brain fog is very normal. However, at the time, I did not understand this fact, so I was trying to plan my future and my new life while my decision-making skills were impaired. I was at a loss. As a counselor running a nonprofit, I thought that I should not be experiencing these issues. Wrong! Confusion, pressured decision-making, and managing expectations of ourselves and the expectations that others have of us are just a few of the main issues surrounding widows, widowers and divorcees.

When we are in the middle of this chaos and fog, many times we don’t ask the right questions because we don’t know the right questions to ask.

Or we trust too much in those who mean well and are trying to lead us, instead of learning to lead ourselves. I have many friends who are widows whose husbands have established their wives well financially, but have not prepared them emotionally to handle those finances. Coming out of a pretty traditional marriage, my husband had made all the decisions, financial and otherwise, which left me at a deficit of practical knowledge. So does the blame lie with him or with myself for not having the courage to step up and ask?

If we tend to make better decisions when grounded in truth and reality, how did I get to the point where I could clearly see the situation before me? How did I find my way after making so many wrong decisions? How was I able to change, reinvent my life and career, and grow in better financial wisdom and better decisions?

After much trial and error, I have discovered that what I needed was to learn how to manage my money, make good decisions, increase my income, spend wisely, invest automatically and give generously. I had to figure out how to establish my life around new values as a single individual and work through my emotions of grief without letting those emotions negatively affect the choices that shape my future.

Why is this so important for widows and divorcees? Because we need to know how to emotionally handle the technical side of money and our decisions. I currently teach a practical skills workshop at Santiago Community College, in which we explore decision-making skills, successful communication with your financial advisor, the process of determining your values and what your goals and desires are for your finances. The course also covers how to manage the expectations of others, how to move forward after a major life transition, and how to love and appreciate your “new normal” and begin to reshape your future.

After putting these practices into place, I was able to start a business which I’m happy to say has become quite successful, Nifty Package Co, Daily Money Manager and currently work as a CeFT © at Hagler Financial Services in Old Town Orange.