Initially, advisors suggest sticking to mundane financial decisions: collecting death benefits, ensuring cash flows, paying bills. Financial triage, in other words. When the clouds lift, widows are less likely to act on emotion.
That's when, financial planners say, they lay on a healthy dose of reason. "I say, 'I have no idea when [your husband] was going to sell this investment, and unfortunately, he's not here to monitor it,'" Morrison said.
A bigger investment problem for widows, Morrison said, is fear of losing their money. "You know that old bag lady thing," she said. Many underestimate the erosive power of inflation and insist on keeping their money in cash.
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Morrison tells these clients that she will be happy to call around to different banks all over the country to find the best certificate of deposit rates, for example. "You bring me a signed note from a florist or a car dealership or a grocery store that will guarantee today's prices five years from now," she said.
Making appropriate investing decisions for a new life stage might take widows some time to nail down. "As time goes by, it's so fun to watch these women bloom," Young said. "At first, they're hesitant to make any changes, but then they start making their goals and reassessing what they need to do."
—By Ilana Polyak, special to CNBC.com