The Red, Amber and Green Lights of Decision Making

Hello and thank you for checking out Life, Loss & Legacy – a PlanningSolo podcast dedicated to helping people navigating those first few years after losing their partner.

My name’s Jordan Vaka and I’m an independent financial adviser with PlanningSolo.

And in this episode, I’d like to go through what we’re doing with this podcast in more detail, and dip into just why we’ve put it all together.

Before I hop into that, though, I encourage you to get in touch with any questions, thoughts or comments. The contact details are in the shownotes, and at

I want this series to be as useful, practical and valuable as possible – so any feedback or guidance you can provide will be very gratefully accepted!

Now, on to the very natural first question – why are we doing this? Why put together a series of 30-odd podcast episodes dedicated to one of the most difficult and challenging periods of somebody’s life?

Well, first, some background on me and PlanningSolo would be helpful here.

I’ve been a financial adviser for nearly 17 years, and for a big part of that I was your usual financial adviser – helping everybody with everything financial. Great experience, but ultimately not for me.

Which led to trying to work out what was for me.

Over time, I came to realise that it was all about the people I got to work with.


Who Do We Help?

Because it was very obvious that I had a group of people that I really valued working with.

People who were looking for somebody to trust, for somebody to guide them and for somebody who could provide clear, supportive advice.

And that this group of people also weren’t very experienced with their money – to the point that the idea of managing their own money caused them discomfort and – not infrequently – serious anxiety and fears.

So I came to realise that working with people through that brought a lot of meaning to my career and let me really help them.

This process continued as I really focused on identifying this group of people.

Financially inexperienced. Nervous. Looking for things to be better – but unsure of who to listen to.

Generally women, aged between 45 and 65 who want to take back control of their financial future, but aren’t too sure where to start.

And, finally, people going through one of life’s big transitions.

I started off helping people through divorce – a difficult transition regardless of how amicable the process was.

Very quickly, though, I had people getting in touch that weren’t getting divorced, but were going through something else – very often, bereavement.

And they would ask questions and tell me things that made it clear that there was a lot of overlap in the work and skills we use in our divorce work, with all of these other transitions.

They were contacting my team and I and saying things like:

  • I’ve got these shares, but the broker who was helping my husband keeps talking at me – like I’m an idiot.
  • What should I do with this self-managed super fund? My partner’s accountant keeps asking me, but I don’t know where to start.
  • I’m so worried I’m going to run out of money.

Which is why we’ve spent the last few years developing this very – very! – specific practice around helping people finding their feet again after losing their partner in life.


Yes, But Why?

Which, circles back to that original question – why am I doing this podcast?

Frankly, because I think it’s really needed.

There’s no instruction booklet for life; well, there definitely isn’t for death either.

The people I help don’t know where to start, so they’re forced to trust the adviser – lawyers, accountants, financial advisers – that they’ve inherited.

And then, when they don’t build that trust – for any number of reasons – they blame themselves. They blame themselves for ‘not getting it’, or for ‘not understanding’.

Of course you don’t understand it! You’ve never done it before! It’s on the advisers to make it understandable!

Instead, people get bombarded with terms, jargon, processes and just, things, in a way that makes them feel like they should know all this. But, really, why should you?

Why should you understand:

  • Testamentary trusts
  • The roles, responsibilities and risks of being an executor?
  • The (many) steps involved in administering an estate – I mean, even what on earth an estate actually
  • Shares. Securities.
  • Tax. Trusts – and everything in between.

So a big part of my role is helping people come to grips with all these terms and points. So that they can be an informed and active participant in this process.

Because I believe that, in doing so – in gradually taking on that mantle, they’re also starting the process of rebuilding their own, new and probably unwelcome, future.

And I got to thinking – like every man now does, it seems – about starting a podcast.

Used to be every man had a novel in him (though often that was where it should have stayed – credit to Christopher Hitchens!), now it seems like it’s a podcast!

But, anyway, I got to thinking that maybe, instead of helping people one-by-one, I can build something that anybody can listen to and that just might help make their path a little less rocky and a little less steep.

And, thankfully, my ego isn’t so precious as to think that I need to be the only voice on the whole series!

So I’ve invited a broad range of guests to come on and help build a helpful and informative series to help people – to help you – step forward with a little more clarity, a little more certainty, and a lot more confidence.


The What

So, that’s why – how about the what?

By which I mean, what’s the real objective here – what’s the main thing I’m hoping this series will do for you?

Simply – I hope that it help you make better decisions, more often.


Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Because, you may have noticed, this is a period of your life where you’re going to be asked to make a lot of decisions.

A lot.

From funeral arrangements to flowers to legacy to advisers to real estate to shares to superannuation to kids to housing to your future to the broader family to everything else in between, around, above and below.

And that expectation, or that requirement, can be confronting, exhausting and paralysing.

You may find yourself in rooms where people are talking at you, throwing around jargon and terminology then all stopping to look at you, waiting for your choice.

Or, worse, you might find yourself being put in the background while somebody else dictates what you should do, or how you should do it, or what you should want.

Sometimes these people have the best of intentions; sometimes they don’t.

Either way, their habit of pushing you out of the driver’s seat can have a big impact on your present and your future.

The alternative is for you to make as many of the decisions as you’re comfortable making. Which means having a voice and an opinion across a series of considerations you might not be familiar with, or confident in.

Which means that you then need to feel confident – and safe – to ask questions that you might think are silly. (But they’re not).

And all of these considerations are often occurring sub-consciously, in a time of great stress, uncertainty and emotional weight.

So you’ll make some decisions, you’ll delegate others, you’ll avoid some and you’ll rail against others.

Then, in five years, or ten, or twenty, you’ll look back on this time with regret, or irritation, or even anger.

At yourself, or at the backgrounders, or the bullies, or, you know what, even your late partner.

This isn’t unusual, or unnatural – it seems to be a lot more common than many of us are aware.


How I’d Like This To Help

But it is something that I hope – with more humility than it seems – this series can keep from happening with you.

By providing you with all of this information, in a digestible way that you can freely re-listen to, and by bringing in really wonderful people to help, my hope is to equip you with the information you need to feel better about the many, many decisions you have ahead of you.

And, part of that is the idea of categorising your decisions using a traffic light method.

I first came across this idea after reading Robert Giardella’s really, really good book – From Sudden Wealth to Lasting Wealth.

He’s an adviser out of the US, with education and experience in psychology. His perspectives are really useful – and I genuinely encourage you to check out his book – for people who are now ‘suddenly’ being asked to manage significant amounts of money.

And in this book, Robert introduces the idea of plonking all the decisions you’re facing into three categories:

  • Red light decisions are ones that don’t need to be made now and that you should sit on for a while, to avoid rushing into a mistake.
  • Amber light choices are ones that you can make now, but aren’t urgent, so there’s nothing to be lost from waiting.
  • Green light decisions are ones that you can readily make now, with very minor risks and consequences.

It’s a great structure, but I’ve inverted it for this podcast series.


My Traffic Light Method

You’ll notice the different episode tiles have red, amber and green accents. This is very deliberate and in line with how I’ve approached the series.

As I said, I’ve inverted Robert’s approach, to categorise the many, many decisions you’re facing differently:

  • In my model, red light decisions are those critical ones you have to make now, before you can move on. You must stop and deal with these items before you can move through the intersection.
  • Amber light decisions are similar to Robert’s version, in that they’re the ones you can start making once you’ve laid the foundation with the red-light options. These ones are important, but not urgent and have to naturally wait until after the red ones are wrapped up.
  • Meanwhile, green light decisions are those that you tackle as you start moving out of the initial stages of your grief. Those first, tentative steps you take into the next phase of your life.


Red-Light Means STOP

So, in this series, the red-light episodes – and saying that aloud for the first time is making me realise I need to phrase that differently, lest it really introduce some questionable implications! – are the first bracket of episodes.

I talk with estate planning specialists about the importance of the different documents at play in resolving an estate.

I talk with experts that work every day with people administering estates.

So they’re intimately familiar with the noise, worries and – often – mess, you’re now dealing with. And that you ultimately need to deal with before you can move to the next step.

I chat with solicitors around what all the terms you’re having thrown at you mean.

And I talk about tax, superannuation, insurance and disputes – all to help equip you with the knowledge that will leave you feeling – even slightly – more in control.


Amber Lights – Approach with Caution

The amber light portion of the series are also critically important, but – I think – a little more positive. Because we’re talking now about laying the foundation for your new future.

Hopefully the immediate impact of your loss is behind you – the paperwork has been settled, the estate finalised, all the critical elements have been addressed.

Now, as uncomfortable as I know it feels, it’s time to – slowly – start working on you and your future.

I’ve brought in psychologists to help you identify the lingering effects of grief over other aspects of life.

I talk with a financial planner who specialises in helping people build their financial confidence – slowly and one carefully considered step at a time.

I also chat about how you can start constructing your own advisory board because, frankly, it’s very possible that the advisers you’ve inherited are simply not a good fit for what you need.

These decisions can still be a heavy burden on your cognitive capacity – so they can be easy to avoid, or delegate, or delay.

My aim with this portion of the series is to help you identify the amber decisions when you land on one and then have the knowledge and structure to feel better about your choices.


Green Means GO!

Finally, the green light episodes have been perhaps the most difficult ones to approach. Which sounds counter-intuitive, right?

These are the good news episodes, the relaunch ones as you step into your new future, hair thrown back and a smile on your face.

Except, that’s not quite true, is it?

There’s guilt that comes with moving on the next phase of life. A complexity of emotions around stepping forward, feeling like you’re leaving them behind, or even that they may not have approved of your choices.

So it’s really important to me that the people I speak with – career coaches, travel agents, home buyers, decluttering experts and stylists – approach the topic and decisions with sensitivity and awareness – which I think we’ve managed to land.

So that’s my – inverted – traffic light model. My hope is that it helps you categorise the fire hose of decisions you’re facing into the three groups:

  • Red light – I have to do these now, before I can move on to the next thing
  • Amber light – these can wait, but will be foundation that I’ll build my new life on
  • Green light = these aren’t urgent, and I’ll only need to address them when I’m ready.


What They Might Look Like

Before I wrap up this episode, I also want to unpack just what some of these different decisions might be.

So, some of the specific red light decisions you might have to juggle in that first phase of the process includes:

  • Managing – or cleaning up – the estate you’ve been left.
  • Deciding whether you wish to be the executor or not.
  • Working through what a testamentary trust will mean for you and your family.

Flowing on from that, I would suggest that the following ones are firmly in that amber light camp:

And, finally, I hope that seeing these decisions as green light choices is helpful too:

  • Finding new meaning in your career – or building a new one
  • Redefining your approach to style and confidence
  • Booking that first trip away on your own
  • Buying your first home (on your own)
  • Reordering the stuff in your life to honour the past, but avoid living in a memorial.


As I’ve mentioned in the introduction to this series I’m excited for you to hear what we’ve put together and I truly hope it proves helpful to even one person.

My contact details are in the show notes, or you can email me at [email protected].

My name’s Jordan Vaka and thank you for joining me for this episode of Life Loss and Legacy – a PlanningSolo podcast.

Until next time, take care and speak soon.

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