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Help Aging Clients Discuss Their Priorities

By Liz Miller

Successful financial plans anticipate longevity, emergency expenses, and late-life healthcare crises. They give our clients comfort and confidence that we have heard their vision of their future and that their financial resources are likely to support them for the lifetime they anticipate. But financial plans can’t reflect the critical discussions our clients need to have with each other and their families to ensure their lifestyle experiences follow their vision.

As trusted advisors, we are particularly well situated to help our clients discuss aging and make plans before a crisis leads the family to step in. By helping clients discuss preferences ahead of time, partners can feel informed and more confident, and they can more thoroughly understand each other’s priorities even when forced to make emergency decisions for each other. Here are a few important conversations you can initiate with clients to help them share their priorities.

1. If a Medical Emergency Strikes, Do You Know on Whom You Want to Rely?

We have all had the heartbreak of seeing a client experience a life-changing medical event. Often, an adult child steps in to take charge and quickly makes important decisions about our client’s care and future. You can help your clients feel more confident about their independence by discussing some pre-planning for their own potential health needs.

While your client should have a valid advanced directive, couples usually name each other in these legal documents. In a medical emergency, it can be very helpful to welcome other trusted voices to lend a hand. You can ask your clients in what circumstances they might want someone to be by their side to help with health-related decisions or to offer emotional support. Being clear on this ahead of time can help reduce the anxiety of letting a friend, family member, or someone else assist. For single clients without family nearby, this conversation is even more important!

Also, help your clients think about their preferred medical professionals and facilities. In an emergency, an unprepared family member may contact the closest or most available professionals. Your clients, however, probably already know from their own experience—or friends’—the medical facilities, home care providers, and professionals they prefer. Encourage them to keep a list so that their preferences are clear if someone steps in to help them.

2. Have You Thought About Supportive Places You Would be Willing to Live if You Couldn’t Stay in Your Current Home?

Whether by medical crisis or aging, a time may come when your clients need a different living arrangement. Help them follow their own preferences rather than have the decision come through the quick research of a concerned child. Clients probably already know the places they prefer, even if they can’t imagine making a move today. They also know the places they would never want to live!

In opening this conversation, you can also encourage them to visit these places now to share impressions with each other as well as show potential future interest in the residence. Many communities have long waitlists, and it may be worth putting their names on the list at a few places even if they don’t intend to move; they can always keep turning down availability when a call comes. If the day comes that they need to make a move, they will already have standing with their preferred locations.

3. Does Each of You Know Where the Other Keeps Critical Information?

When any calamity strikes, having contacts and medical information at your fingertips often makes all the difference. Soon after your clients experience any serious event, they will likely be asked for a medical history, medication list, and family and professional contacts. Remembering or accessing this information can be especially difficult for anyone when they are in shock, overwhelmed, or preoccupied with concern for their partner.

You can add more value to your clients and lead this conversation by creating a list or worksheet for clients to help them compile vital information for each other and family members. The list should start with the names and contact information of anyone they would like to be contacted in an emergency. It should include any allergies, medical conditions, and their current medications—names and dosage. It is even more helpful if it adds medical insurance and any current or preferred medical professionals and phone numbers.

A complete critical organizer is a valuable resource for your clients that additionally includes document locations, financial and insurance information, and other professional contacts. There are books available you might give to your clients, or you might direct them to some of the online options from associations like these free forms from AARP and the American Bar Association.

More Considerations

When we talk with our aging clients, we also look for ways to initiate discussions about driving transitions, preferred contacts if we see a mental decline, and circumstances when someone should change their existing powers of attorney away from each other. None of these are easy discussions for partners to share, but when you initiate the subject as a concerned advisor, you offer your clients the gift of objectivity. It often allows them to open the door with each other to say important things out loud.

We work every day to help clients achieve their long-term financial plans. The goal is to help them live the life they envision now and in their decline. As their professional partner, we will be with them many years longer than previous generations of professionals, building trust in many aspects of their lives. Initiating meaningful conversations around aging helps our clients chart their own course and define their future independence, no matter their changing circumstances. It also helps us better support them when we have empowered them to share their visions and priorities.

Liz Miller, CFP®, CFA, is the founder and president of Summit Place Financial Advisors in Summit, NJ. She is the 2024 chair-elect for CFP Board and serves on the editorial advisory board of Trusts & Estate magazine.

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