The sad truth is that the financial planning industry largely overlooks the fact that creating an end-of-life plan needs to be a part of a standard and routine part of a comprehensive financial plan.
To prove my point, as a financial advisor for nearly 25 years, I have never been trained or educated on two of the most emotionally and financially challenging situations a client can possibly face in their lifetime:
- Helping them to prepare their end-of-life plans and preferences in advance and before it is “too late.”
- Helping them understand and manage the funeral planning process after a loved one has passed.
The Missing Piece of Financial Planning: The-End of-Life Plan
The reality is that a client should logically turn to their financial advisor for anything that has to do with not only their money, but also the best interests of their family. This involves a detailed review and analysis of things like insurance, investments, estate planning, choosing wills or living trusts, minimizing or eliminating taxes, college planning, choosing the optimal mortgage, minimizing debt, maximizing cash flow and so on.
The key point here is that as an advisor, I have always believed that the most important role we play is to help protect our families against unexpected events that can cause major financial or emotional challenges, and possibly irreparable damages or losses.
Typically, most advisors accomplish this protection by implementing traditional financial products and strategies such as life insurance, wills or living trusts, disability insurance, long-term care health insurance, annuities, car and home insurance, to name a few. These recommendations can vary, since of course, each family’s situation is usually unique and different.
To be honest, after 25 years in this business I truly considered myself to be extremely well-versed in how to best protect my clients (as well as my own family) against unexpected events. However, everything changed on Thanksgiving Day of 2008 when I lost a close loved one and had to personally experience the entire “real life” funeral planning process.
Very Few Families Know “What to Do Next”
Losing a close loved one is by far one the most difficult experiences anyone can face in their lifetime. I remember feeling incredibly helpless as we went through this experience. I kept saying to myself, “As a financial advisor, I should know better. I should have the answers to the many questions my family is asking.” But I didn’t.
When I began to see the enormity of the situation, how difficult it is, and how little I really knew, I realized how sad it was that I had never been trained or educated on how to plan and prepare my clients for this particular situation, much less my own family. And quite frankly, I am almost ashamed to admit this.
I can remember looking at my family, and without saying one single word, it was clearly obvious that we all had the exact same questions. And sadly, these are the questions that most families are forced to deal with every day when they lose a loved one such as:
1. What do we do now?
2. Who can we turn to for credible help and advice?
3. How do we get started?
Looking Back: What Could I Have Done Differently?
As I look back, it was truly amazing how strongly our family came together and accomplished so many things in such a short period of time — most of which we had no clue even how to begin. And yet, at the same time, I also remember feeling frustrated because not only did we lack the knowledge to deal with many of these challenges, but we also had no idea where to turn to for the help and answers we needed.
I can’t even begin to tell you all of the funeral planning challenges and emotional ups and downs a family goes through as they work through things like planning the memorial service details, writing an obituary, deciding who to invite and notify, coordinating all of the details with the church, choosing who will give a eulogy, picking out funeral flowers (or setting up donations), choosing among the many different cremation urns. Truthfully, I remember there were so many times when it just felt too overwhelming to handle.
Some Valuable Advice
So after only scratching the surface, I think many people need to hear these facts:
1. There is nothing more difficult than the loss of a loved one.
2. Planning a funeral and memorial service can be an overwhelming process.
3. The large majority of families are uneducated on the many details involved in planning a funeral.
4. Very few families lose a loved one who took the time to leave behind their final plans and preferences, or end-of-life plan telling them “what to do next.”
The truth is it really doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, we are talking about death and dying. No, it is not fun, and not something we even like to think about. However, the harsh reality is that some day you will die. So, when you break it down to these simple facts, you are left with two choices:
1. Do nothing and let your family add insult to injury.
2. Plan in advance and minimize or eliminate some of the burden you will leave behind.
We Are All in the Same Boat
When I think about it, I had countless opportunities over the years to have this discussion with family, my clients, my friends and so many others. I can honestly tell you that every day I regret the fact that I not only failed to address these all-important issues, but also that I did not know how to properly plan and prepare, in advance, for something that is this meaningful.
At the very least, I should have encouraged my entire family to make sure each of us has documented some of the most important final plans and preferences; in other words, “What we would want to have happen.” This is not a difficult process either. In fact, to accomplish this, all you need to do is take the time to complete what is commonly referred to in the funeral industry as a “Family Record Guide” (Note: You can download a FREE copy at www.funeralresources.com.)
What Message Would I Love Everyone to Hear?
Every day I look at a beautiful urn in my office. This urn reminds me of one of the most amazing people I will ever know and love, and I cannot help but wonder, “Is she in the right place? Is she where she would have wanted to be?” The sad truth is I will never know where the “the right place” is, but I do know that it inspires me each and every day to work hard to make a difference for other families.
Again, please understand that I know nobody likes to talk about death, dying, or end-of-life planning. However, we have to face and accept the fact that not only are we going to die someday, but it could actually happen much sooner than anyone could ever imagine.
So my sincere hope is that I can encourage anyone who is reading this… every agent or advisor, every grandparent, every father or mother, every son or daughter, every spouse, every grandchild, and every loved one or friend, to set aside or make the time to have this discussion with your family. And since nobody knows what the future holds, make this happen sooner versus later.
Never Forget the Following:
There is no such thing as preparing your end-of-life plan “too soon.” On the contrary, the worst thing you can do is allow any client or family member to accept the attitude of “I don’t need to do this now,” “That won’t happen to me” I can do this later.”
Three of the best quotes I use at every opportunity possible are:
- “By failing to plan you are planning to fail.”
- “The difference between failure and success is largely determined by the amount of planning and preparation for the future.”
- “Experience is the name we give our mistakes…assuming we learn from them.”
You Can’t Go Wrong:
By creating an end-of-life plan in advance, there are very few things that can provide more meaningful benefits than from this selfless act of love. Two of the many benefits are:
- Peace of mind: You and your clients can sleep better at night knowing that you have completed this all-important plan, and that their family and loved ones will be forever grateful. This is the true definition of a win-win situation.
- Full control over how you to be remembered: Knowing this will be a time of great loss for so many loved ones, you and your clients will be remembered for showing how much you cared by sacrificing the time to do something very special… and easing the burden when it was needed the most.
After going through something like this, you begin to realize why they say that since every day we have is truly a gift, that’s exactly why they call it “the present.“ So please, take advantage of “your present” and build a plan that allows your loved ones to celebrate your life, allows you to show how much you care, and allows everyone to enjoy all of the wonderful memories they were able to share with you.
Get Started Today: Your First Step is Easy!
If you would like help with how to help build a plan like this, please visit www.funeralresources.com, or feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.