Many clients engage the services of a financial advisor due to a life change. These could include getting married, getting divorced, the death of a spouse, losing a job, retiring and many other situations. These life situations and others would fall under the heading of 'transition.' A financial adviser can provide much needed advice to their clients in these situations to help them successfully navigate life’s transitions. Here are a few examples.

Marriage and Children

Getting married is a life transition on all fronts. Financially, you are combining incomes, assets and liabilities. Your retirement plans are now for two.  You need to plan for what happens if one of you dies. A financial adviser can help a couple look at things from a joint perspective rather than as a single person. (For more, see: Why Marriage Makes Financial Sense.)

If and when a couple has children life will never be the same. Financially, there are many transitions. Young couples should think in terms of having a will or other appropriate estate planning documents in place and having a named guardian for the minor children in the event of their death. Obtaining proper life insurance is important at this stage as well. Saving for college as well as dealing with the cost of child care are also big financial issues. Again, a financial adviser can help provide strategies and a third-party perspective to the client’s situation. (For more, see: Estate Planning Tips for Financial Advisors.)


Divorce is a time of transition both in financial and non-financial terms. In many instances the wife may have let her now ex-husband handle the couple’s financial affairs and may now find herself in charge of he own finances for the first time in her life.

Whether or not the client is new to managing their finances a financial adviser can provide a source of independent advice during the divorce process and post-divorce. For example what constitutes a fair division of the marital assets? How much child support is appropriate? Is it better for one spouse to keep the house or to sell it? (For more, see: How to Manage Your Finances Through a Divorce.)

Post-divorce, the adviser can assist with budgeting, saving for retirement and all of the areas of personal finance that must now be dealt with as a single person. Should the client remarry, the financial adviser can help with issues surrounding this much happier time of transition.

Death of a Spouse

The death of a spouse is perhaps the most dramatic life transition there is. The emotional toll on the surviving spouse and the rest of the family is enormous.  In the face of all of this, there are generally many financial details to tend to and often decisions to be made. The advice and counsel of a trusted financial adviser can be invaluable to the surviving spouse. (For more, see: Why Do Widows Leave Their Advisors?)

The issues facing a surviving spouse can be daunting. Just a few examples include dealing with the deceased spouse’s retirement plans such as IRA accounts, 401(k) plans and any pension benefits.  Additionally there are issues with credit cards, any debts owed, assets that pass to heirs via will or probate and many others. (For more, see: How Women in Transition Should Mind Their Finances.)

Beyond the more mechanical tasks listed above there is the transition to planning one’s finances as a single person.  You are now planning and saving for retirement as a single person.  In the case of a widow who may not have been the primary person dealing with the family’s finances she will need much advice and hand-holding. (For related reading, see: How Financial Advisors Mistreat Women - And What Women Can Do About It)

Changing Jobs/Careers

At the very least a job or career change entails making a decision about what to do with your company retirement plan account whether this is a 401(k), 403(b), 457 or similar account. In addition there might be a pension or stock options involved. If you were let go there might be severance pay as well.  Advice and guidance from your financial adviser can help you make good decisions with these valuable assets.

Let’s say you decide to start a business or become a self-employed professional. There will be any number of issues such as health and disability insurance as well as starting a retirement plan for yourself and perhaps your employees. (For more, see: Transfer Retirement Savings When You Change Jobs.)


Retirement is a huge life transition and your financial adviser’s help can be crucial as you plan for this next phase of life. In the years leading up to retirement your financial adviser should be reviewing your retirement readiness at least annually to ensure that you are on track. 

He or she should prompt you to get a Social Security statement annually and to review it to ensure that you are getting credit for all earnings.

As you enter retirement your financial adviser can help you work through your withdrawal strategy. Which accounts will you tap and in what order? Moreover, your adviser can help you with decisions like downsizing your house, moving to another location and many others. (For more, see: Closing in on Retirement? Read These Tips.)

Planning Can Reduce Stress

The real value added by a financial adviser during times of life transitions is the confidence and peace of mind they can provide clients via the process of helping them weigh their options and work through the best alternatives. (For more, see: The Top 3 Retiree Worries...And What to do About Them.)

The Bottom Line

Life is a series of transitions. These include getting married, getting divorced, having children, sending them off to college, changing jobs/careers, retirement and many others. For investors, working closely with a trusted financial adviser can be the difference between successfully navigating the financial aspects of these transitions or letting these transitions set them back financially. For advisors, being aware of these changes and being prepared for them will allow you to better help your client. (For more, see: Peri-Retirement: The New Life Transition.)

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