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Here for All of Life’s Ups and Downs

Helping a dying client is the most difficult part of a financial planner’s job.

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While medical professionals deal with “life or death” issues on a regular basis, professionals in many different fields—including financial services—must also deal with serious client situations. 

For example, the other day a longtime client contacted me just as I was expecting another important call. I made the conversation brief, and asked if one of my assistants could help him. His reply shocked and saddened me when he said, “I don’t think they can help me with this.” As he went on to tell me that he was now in a hospice facility, thoughts of the 26 years he and I had worked together flooded my mind.

As a financial planner, I help clients with a variety of issues. While most things have to do with monetary objectives, the majority of these matters are surrounded by emotional factors. For example, the goal of generating ongoing retirement income is to help people feel confident about their finances so they can focus on spending more quality time with their loved ones.

Unfortunately, planning ahead for a client’s final days is also one of the “financial physical exam” tasks that I must handle. And while it’s nice to see a good plan helping loved ones replace income or pay off debts, it still doesn’t make losing a client any easier.

The Hardest Part of the Job

If I asked people to guess what my biggest challenges are, they might mention something about dealing with different client personalities, making sure investments and strategies fit a clients’ goals and objectives, or helping clients make good decisions (instead of emotional decisions) when the stock market is volatile.

But the reality is, the toughest part of being a financial advisor is saying goodbye to someone who has become a friend over the years—and in some cases, even like family. Going through the “journey” with a dying client and their loved ones—and remaining strong so that their family has someone to lean on, even when you want to fall apart—is really the most challenging part of the job.

How Will Loved Ones Fare Without You?

While most people don’t like to talk about it, death is a part of life. And because everyone deals with it differently and in their own way, I think what is important here is to ask the people we care about how we can help them prepare for their final days. 

In my experience, in addition to the financial details that should be taken care of, there are other things that are often overlooked, given the more pressing focus on physical and medical issues. 

For instance, what loose ends do they need to tie up? Should they satisfy their annual required minimum distribution(s) from retirement and/or IRA accounts now? Are there any funeral and burial arrangements that still need to be planned or funded? Have they asked a friend or family member to deliver their eulogy? If they want an open-casket viewing as part of the funeral, which clothes do they want to be buried in?

What about assets or personal items they want to pass on to loved ones? Should some of these be gifted while the individual is still alive so that they can see the excitement on the recipients’ faces? In some instances, early birthday or holiday celebrations may be in order. 

Because all situations are different, not all strategies and plans will be right for everyone across the board. But as difficult as having some of these conversations can be, they are well worth it and provide peace of mind for everyone involved.  

Is Your Financial Plan Current?

If you have dependent family members or friends who will struggle financially upon your passing, this should ideally be addressed in your overall plan now. This doesn’t only refer to a spouse or partner and/or children who might have to drastically change their lifestyle if your income or financial support disappeared. This also applies if you have unpaid debts at the present time. It is important to make sure that this debt won’t have to be taken on by parents, siblings, or other loved ones after you pass. For example, there
needs to be a plan to pay any final medical and/or hospice costs that aren’t covered by insurance. 

If you already have a financial and estate plan in place, it is a good idea to review it on a regular basis. It is also wise to make sure your plan is still relevant throughout the various phases of life—marriage or divorce, the birth or adoption of a child or grandchild, the death of a spouse or partner, the purchase or sale of a home or business, and retirement. 

Working with a financial-planning professional to make sure your financial plan has all of the bases covered, including details about your final wishes, is highly recommended. That way, you can be more assured that things will move forward in the way you intend them to. 

This article appears in the August 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Grace S. Yung

Grace S. Yung, CFP, is a certified financial planner practitioner with experience in helping domestic partners plan their finances since 1994. She is a principal at Midtown Financial LLC in Houston and was recognized as a “Five-Star Wealth Manager” in the September 2017 issue of Texas Monthly.
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