By now, everybody knows the aging population makes eldercare a top priority. But what may come as a surprise is the hotbed of emotionalism it typically releases.
"We have to be 95% psychologists," says Diane Pearson of Legend Financial Advisors in Pittsburgh. "If you don't understand your client from a psychological standpoint, you can't answer certain questions that come up."
Yet most FAs aren't trained psychologists. So how do you manage-or learn to manage better-the intangibles of eldercare planning?
Psychology Tips. A good first step, says Michael Kay of Financial Focus in Livingston, N.J., and author of The Business of Life, is "be fully cognizant of where you yourself are mentally."
In other words, try to exude calm. Write an agenda before any meetings, even if you don't ordinarily. "The biggest mistake an advisor can make is to let a difficult meeting devolve into a kind of open-ended discussion," Kay cautions.
A degree of flexibility is OK. Planning for "a 65-year-old with dementia and no other medical complications," says Michael Coler, co-executive director of The Kenwood by Senior Star in Cincinnati, is clearly different from a discussion about "a 90-year-old with lung cancer, diabetes and hypertension."
Keep a tight focus. Given that, it's good to know as much background as you can beforehand. Start family meetings by asking if anyone has a burning question. "Write it on a whiteboard and promise to get to it before the meeting adjourns so it doesn't become a distraction," recommends Kay.
It's also prudent to announce how long the meeting will last-typically, one or two hours. Stick to it, but don't be too rigid. "Don't hurry the conversation or jump to conclusions," asserts Judith McGee of Portland, Ore.-based McGee Financial Services, an office of Raymond James Financial Services. "There's usually a family history to tell."
In fact, try to limit the number of participants to six at any one time, she adds, and use large type whenever possible. "It's all about how you communicate," agrees Julie Murphy Casserly, an independent financial planner in Chicago and author of The Emotion Behind Money.
Body language. Looking and listening, however, are equally important. "Someone whose arms and legs are crossed is probably not completely engaged in the conversation," says Kay. "I'll ask that person, 'How are you feeling about this?'"
Similarly, someone making eye contact is likely receptive. Leaning forward indicates attentiveness, leaning back signals withdrawal. "These gestures typically convey what's going on inside," maintains Mitchell Kauffman at Kauffman Wealth Services, a Santa Barbara and Pasadena, Calif.-based broker for Raymond James.
Be a moderator. It doesn't have to be a guessing game, though. Taking a leaf from a psychotherapist's playbook, Kauffman advises, "Reflect and rephrase what you hear in a non-accusatory way. ... If something's especially heated or unclear, I'll say, 'Let me make sure I understand. What you're saying is-.'"
To be sure, you might have to read between the lines. "Many times when people talk about money, it's not actually about money," explains David Keator of the Keator Group, a Lenox, Mass.-based wealth manager. A persistent need for extra cash, for example, could reflect a yearning insecurity-or a hidden addiction. "You have to be astute to tell the difference, and know when to refer clients to a non-financial resource," says Keator.
Naturally, most FAs are familiar with emotionalism. "Emotion underlies all financial decisions," says Stephen Horan, head of private wealth management at the CFA Institute in Charlottesville, Va.
But if it takes some coaxing to get clients or family members to open up, try "sharing anonymous third-party stories," suggests Brent Bayes, a CPA and marketing director for Las Ventanas Retirement Community, in Las Vegas. "Hearing how others have done their planning or reacted in a certain situation helps bring things into focus."
Sibling rivalry. With any family interaction, old sibling rivalries can become a big issue. Nothing makes adults revert to childhood roles faster than a family reunion-and when money is involved, the sparks can really fly.
"Resentments between siblings are issues we, as advisors, cannot manage, but we can anchor everyone to the key message, which is: This money needs to first make sure mom is cared for," insists Matt Zagula, president of the Estate and Elder Planning Center in Weirton, W.Va.