Should your financial advisor give end of life advice
that goes beyond updating your
beneficiary designations and wills?
Most money conversations I have with my clients are really about values, hopes, dreams, and overall, making the most of their life. When I ask a client how her granddaughter is, she won't say "Great, her UTMA account was up 2% last month in a down market!"
My answer to the title of this post is YES. But I don't blame anyone for disagreeing with me. After all, the subject of death is the least comfortable topic anyone could talk about. But it is the one topic everyone will have to face at some time in the future.
My father in law passed away very recently. Plus, that brought back feelings from when my own father passed away 15 years ago, and still feels like yesterday. Nothing can prepare you for such loss, not emotionally, anyway. But the emotional support from my family and friends helps. In fact, it's the only thing that gets you through it.
Which brings me to the point of this week's post; giving clients and their loved ones a sort of checklist to follow so they are less likely to miss important details and so they don't have to rely on a hodge-podge of advice from their financial advisor, attorney, religious/spiritual leader, their friends, and even their funeral director. But how do I even broach the subject? Maybe I should hold a seminar about death and what you should know about it. I can have it at a local steakhouse. "Hey everyone, while you enjoy your gorgonzola salad, 48 oz. rib-eye, creamed spinach, a Ketel and cran on the rocks, thick-sliced smokehouse bacon, and a huge slice of cheesecake, we're going to talk about death". Um, no thanks. Hey, I may be in a period of mourning, but I never said my sarcasm is on a break.
As a financial advisor, I offer advice, like updating your retirement account beneficiary designations when you marry and have children, update your will, and speak to a trust and estate attorney. Building on that advice are doing things like making your taxable account a TOD (Transfer On Death) account or titling your non-retirement accounts in a trust, gifting assets to your children and grandchildren, using a 529 account for gift maximization purposes, and the list goes on. But all of this leaves out how to deal with the fog that surrounds oneself upon the death of a loved one. You see, death is a life event just as much as it is a financial event, and the financial services industry needs to understand that. As a provider of holistic financial advice, that makes perfect sense to me.
We spend so much time preparing to buy a house, educating our children, retirement, etc., that maybe it's high time we learn more about how to plan to live a more meaningful life AND a more meaningful death? Maybe it's high time we learn more about the aging process; how our bodies change over time, our hormones change, we lose muscle mass as we age, our brains change, and more importantly, using that knowledge to live a healthier lifestyle? Maybe I should incorporate nutrition and personal training into my practice? But I digress. There's been a big push lately to teach personal finance to high schoolers and college kids. How about teaching them about geriatrics too? I mean, we all should know what to expect from aging, right? Isn't your health tied into your finances just as much, if not more, as your 401(k) contributions? If we are expected to live longer, won't we need to stay in the work force longer? Isn't your health really your greatest financial asset? Healthy living can't guarantee a longer lifespan, but it could add more healthy working years to one's life.
We live in a society where people are living longer and by default, are taking longer to die, often in an institutional setting like hospice. Do clients want to know the different fates they may face? Should I, as their financial advisor, let them know regardless, kind of like letting a client know the risk of losses he or she faces in their portfolio? Or maybe this isn't a necessary conversation to even think about. But I do know that every single financial advisor's clients are aging. I also know that every single financial advisor with at least a few years of experience has had to process a death certificate to aid in the disposition of a deceased client's assets.
I work with my clients' attorneys, CPA's, and family members in order to provide holistic advice. But still, that scramble for information that a family has to experience after the passing of a loved one is a confusing process at a time when clarity is needed most. And I work with a clientele who typically has their estate plan completed well in advance of their death, which tells you that almost everyone could benefit from some kind of aforementioned checklist.
There are quite a few "death" checklists available online from reputable organizations like AARP and Consumer Reports. I'll be reviewing these and others from different websites. It'll be my next project because being a resource is one of my most important functions. I want to show the right checklist to the right family at the right time; as the need arises. This won't make great marketing copy, but I'm confident that it'll make peoples' lives easier. That in itself is a wonderful reward.
We can all agree that death is a subject that brings us more questions than answers, but that doesn't mean my profession, which prides itself on holistic advice, should stop asking about the most appropriate ways to help our clients in all life's stages.
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