Nobody wants to talk about death or dying. However, since we know for a fact that it WILL happen some day, shouldn’t we have a place in our planning for this event?
So many people and financial professionals spend their entire lives attempting to create the “perfect financial plan” with the hopes and dreams of becoming financially successful and independent. However, the sad reality is that most people, including financial professionals, overlook or ignore the only thing we can guarantee in our lives … which is that some day we will die.
For more than 23 years, I have been helping my family and my clients by coordinating and integrating strategies with a game plan that is specifically designed to help protect against many of life’s most financially devastating events. Like most financial professionals, adding these all-important layers of financial protection is usually accomplished by using products and strategies such as car and homeowners insurance, umbrella policies, business insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, life insurance, long-term care, annuities, wills and trusts, etc.
However, on Thanksgiving Day of 2008, everything suddenly changed. Just when I thought my family and my clients were properly insulated against life’s most dangerous and/or unexpected events, I lost my mother to cancer.
Ironically, during the two-year period before my mother passed away, I was actually building a funeral planning website on the Internet. And, up until this point, I had spent countless hours researching the funeral industry, performing surveys, writing numerous articles, analyzing the competition, and developing the design of this website.
Looking back, I confidently considered myself to be experienced and well-educated when it comes to funeral planning and end-of-life planning matters. However, it took that dark day on Thanksgiving Day of 2008 for me to learn two extremely valuable lessons:
1. Regardless of all the research I had completed, like most families who have lost a loved one, I can honestly say I had no idea what to do next.
2. It was through this experience that I began to recognize the true purpose and value of leaving behind a smart and comprehensive end-of-life plan.
The reality is that just about everyone agrees these products and strategies mentioned above (life insurance, wills and trusts, etc.) are critical components of a sound financial plan. The reason why is because we all realize that not only are we going to die one day, but we also acknowledge that there is a possibility that someone’s life could actually end suddenly and unexpectedly as well.
When you take a look at the financial industry as it stands today, I think it is fair to say that a large part of a financial advisor’s job is to create a plan for something that might happen today … or it might not. In other words, the financial planning industry has repeatedly trained and conditioned financial advisors to always adhere to the philosophy of “planning for the worst, and hoping for the best”.
You could almost go so far as to say that one of the main roles of a financial advisor is to be the one who says, “I told you so!” For example, in the event that an unexpected event occurs that causes significant financial damage, our goal is to arguably to be able to say …
“Don’t worry Mr./Mrs. Client. Do you remember that backup plan that I strongly recommended we build together? The plan which we both agreed could actually happen, and that I told you was specifically designed for this type of circumstance, right? Well, the good news is this plan we built is now here to help you and your family by reducing or eliminating as much financial and emotional pressure as possible. So don’t worry, everything is going to be OK.”
Now, let’s take this one step further. In some situations, financial advisors can actually be held liable if they fail to discuss or recommend a protective product or strategy. For example, let’s assume a financial advisor fails to bring up the topic of life insurance for a couple with two young children where the wife is a full-time homemaker. If an unexpected event were to occur causing the husband to die, if the financial advisor completely neglected to discuss or recommend life insurance as a suitable product and protective strategy, the surviving spouse could have a good case for a lawsuit. Another example could be failing to discuss long-term care with a widowed woman in her sixties. In fact, I have actually read about several cases where the family members have filed suit against a financial advisor for neglecting to discuss or recommend long-term care insurance and, as a result, the cost of the assisted living depleted the children’s inheritance monies.
Now, let’s move on to the topic of financial advisors and end-of-life planning. When it comes to end-of-life planning, unlike many other financial planning scenarios, a financial advisor could perceivably … and legally … say the following to a client:
“Mr./Mrs. Client, I can guarantee you with verifiable certainty that one of the most tragic events you can imagine will happen to you at some point in the future. And the news gets worse. Although I don’t know exactly when this tragedy will occur, I do know two things for certain. First, this horrible event could happen at any moment. And second, the older you get, the higher the probability that this awful experience is guaranteed to happen. And Mr./Mrs. Client, as much as I hate to admit it, there is even more bad news. I can also tell you that the odds are extremely high that an event as tragic as this will also add severe emotional and financial pressures to your family, and these pressures will begin to set in almost immediately after the tragedy. Now Mr./Mrs. Client, since we know this financially and emotionally damaging event will happen at some point in your future, we need to begin building a plan to minimize the financial and emotional hardship right now! Don’t you agree?”
The fact of the matter is that, although extreme, each of these statements above are 100% accurate, guaranteed, and can be proven to be true … and I don’t see how any lawsuit could be filed in the event any unexpected event occurred that resulted in death. However, because we are talking about the fact that Mr./Mrs. Client will die and, therefore, the need to create an end-of-life plan to help guard against future financial and emotional pressures, this type of financial planning strategy is largely misunderstood, overlooked or simply ignored.
So, if you think about this every time a financial advisor sits down to help build a “big picture” financial plan, they should be aware of the fact that there will be a guaranteed tragic event in each of their client’s financial future. If the financial planning industry does not endorse, strongly encourage, or mandate every single financial plan to contain an end-of-life plan, its because of this mindset: “Yes, I know this can and does happen, but it will never happen to me.”
The sad truth is that although losing my mother was the worst experience of my life, it has evolved into a valuable lesson and tremendous inspiration for me going forward. I’ve been there and I know what families go through. I know the questions they have, the details they need to think about, and the high degree of planning and expenses that are involved. Now, more than ever, I firmly believe that end-of-life planning needs to be a standard and routine part of a comprehensive financial plan. And I am making it a personal mission to change the way the funeral planning industry views, discusses and incorporates this piece as it relates to an overall financial plan.
After much debate, I decided I would proceed forward with my funeral-related website … but only if I could make a difference. So, I went back to the drawing board and began searching the Internet to see what was out there. All I could find were dozens of websites filled with Funeral Home Directories, general information, link after link, and advertisements. All of a sudden I realized exactly what was missing. I saw a glaring opportunity and need for a state-of-the-art Resource Center on the Internet for funeral planning and end-of-life planning.
Everyone knows that the funeral director’s job is one of the most highly respected forms of public service. However, it’s one of the toughest jobs too. Just about all of the services they provide involve challenging situations such as coping with emotional loss, grief counseling and bereavement, working through the funeral expenses and family budgets, helping plan the funeral or burial, performing or assisting with the memorial service, preparing the deceased, coordinating with multiple family members, working with many different religions and churches, and much more.
Given the fact that a funeral directors job is so challenging, it is rewarding to know that as end-of-life planning becomes a more common part of a family’s financial plan, this will help funeral directors by making this difficult situation a little bit easier.
My sincere hope is that I can help make a difference through increased awareness, education, and training with the financial planning industry and end-of-life planning. As financial advisors become more educated and begin to experience the true value and advantages in helping build a smart end-of-life-plan, this will create the need to work closely and regularly with their local funeral directors.
End-of-life planning has multiple benefits. It significantly enhances the benefits from working with a credible financial and funeral professional, as well as strengthens the financial future of the families we serve. Ultimately, this becomes a win-win-win situation … and a situation that I know would make my mother very proud, knowing that her legacy of helping others can continue to live forever.