At the age of 16, Chloe Wohlforth lost her father in the 9/11 attack. This searing experience — and the challenge of coping with such a devastating blow — shaped her adulthood.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Martin Phillips Wohlforth was a 47-year-old bond trader working in the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Chloe was a high-school student in Greenwich, Conn.
In the weeks after 9/11, the family’s friends rallied around Chloe and her mother. When one of them asked about the family’s financial situation, it triggered a set of events that no one could have predicted.
Wohlforth’s father had handled the family finances. Her mother had never made big decisions about money, but in the aftermath of the tragedy she faced a series of important choices.
Their friend introduced the Wohlforths to a financial adviser in October 2001. That simple act proved a godsend.
“The adviser was able to shed a lot of light on topics my mom was not sure of,” Wohlforth says. “It was amazing to see how a complete stranger could step up and be in that position [that my father was]. He spent a ton of time with us and treated our situation like it was his own.”
Rather than burden the family with a list of to-do tasks or complex discussions of financial matters, the adviser made just one request. He asked Wohlforth’s mother to fill a shopping bag with all the family’s financial account statements and related material that she could find, and drop it off at his house.
Over the following months, the adviser and Wohlforth’s mother met regularly to develop a comprehensive financial plan. While Chloe wasn’t involved in these meetings, she noticed the impact of his presence in the family’s life.
“I was aware that my mother could sleep at night because of the work he was doing,” Wohlforth recalls.
Wohlforth, now 36, attended Princeton University (her father’s alma mater) and graduated in 2007. Realizing the vital role her family’s financial adviser had played in bringing her family some stability, she chose financial services as a career and now is a certified financial planner based in New York City.
She almost never mentions her tragic loss with her clients. She says she’s brought it up “once or twice because I felt it was relevant to what they were going through.”
But she’s intent on preparing clients for life’s uncertainties by encouraging them to draft a will, buy life insurance and take other proactive estate planning steps.
Wohlforth’s experience also enhances her ability to respond to clients who suffer unimaginable loss. “When there’s a traumatic event, there’s a physical reaction and an emotional reaction,” she says. About her own loss, she adds: “Physically, I was very focused on taking it one step at a time as a high school student. The emotional impact has taken years to piece together.”
Says Wohlforth: “Everybody has a different lens when dealing with trauma,” she said. “People have different priorities and react differently. Because it’s usually different for each member of a family, you’re creating a roadmap for each of them. There’s no cookie-cutter answer.”
Meanwhile, Wohlforth continues on the road to self-discovery. When Hurricane Ida hit in August 2021, she went through boxes in her mother’s house. Perusing old letters, she found printouts of emails in the months after 9/11.
“I had printed them out because I wanted to remember the enormous amount of support I received, particularly from people I had never met before,” she says. “There’s no time limit on the healing process. I’m still learning things to this day, about my dad and about myself.”