Are you ensuring that your clients address the ultimate planning issue?

"O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?"
- Paul's letter to Corinth
(I Corinthians 15:55)

It has been said that there are only two things for certain: death and taxes.
I would add a third--taxes upon death. And not just those administrated by the governments.
It is not the estate alone that is being "taxed"--it is the survivors' lives. A lack of preparation, foresight and obviation is the grave's final victory. To answer Paul's rhetorical prose, one might say that the great sting of death is in the financial hardship too often left behind.
These days it seems like I'm finding myself going to a lot of funerals and seeing one unexpected death after another. There is very little one can do to "prepare" for death at the emotional and spiritual levels. When death comes, it will bring unexpected threats to our being, and we'll need to labor our way through the long days and months ahead. The exception to this rule, however, is revealed in the financial ramifications of death. Following are some recent death-related observations and associated fiscal laments:
A man dies suddenly at 63 and leaves behind an unintended scavenger hunt for financial records--only adding confusion and fear of poverty to every other burden the family bears.
A former schoolteacher in her seventies precedes her unhealthy husband in death. He loses the $1,800 dollars a month from her state pension because she assumed he would precede her and therefore chose only the life insurance option in the pension plan.
A young man with three young children dies and leaves just enough life insurance to pay for a funeral and vacation to Disney World.
A middle-aged family man dies in an accident and has no life insurance or will--only scattered records.
I'm assuming you too have witnessed these types of stories and possibly some scenarios that are much worse. One such story came awfully close to home recently with the passing of Gene, one of the team members in our business. Had it not been for the unrelenting reminders and loving harassment of Lori, another member of our team, Gene's progeny would have been left in a severe financial situation.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Gene applied for life insurance and was denied because of his weight. Lori made it her weekly mission to remind Gene of the promise he had made to himself (and to his two small children) to lose the weight and insure his family against his own mortality. Some people might not have possessed the urgency that motivated Lori, seeing that Gene was youthful, a nonsmoker and quite athletic. But Lori has spent many years in the life insurance industry and has seen that life offers no guarantees equal to death.
Lori called me one afternoon last spring sobbing with the horrible news that Gene had passed away in his sleep from an aneurism. He was just 37 years old. He simply went to bed and never woke up. Lori was trying to tell me something else, but I couldn't understand her because of her tears.
"Say that again, Lori," I asked.
"He was approved just two months ago. He had finally lost the 20-plus pounds and he was able to leave life insurance for his kids. I nagged him every week for over a year ... and he finally did it," she told me.
A close call that becomes a tragic financial epitaph for a man with a CFP, if not for one simple factor--another human being with enough compassion, foresight and fortitude to motivate Gene do what Gene truly wants to do.

Exit Ramp #279
Very few people are properly prepared for one of the 100% certainties of life and of this business--you will die, and there is a significant chance that that there will be no road signs telling you the time and place. This is not like a trip to Wall Drug in South Dakota, where the signs start appearing 500 miles away and reminders pop up every 25 miles or so. No, death has a mind of its own, and extends no forgiveness for those in denial and those who procrastinate toward preparation.
Now is the time for the pin to pop the balloon of boomer denial. This can be accomplished by a simple phrase loaded on the lips of good advisors everywhere: This is not about you! It's about the people you'll leave behind and the position you will leave them in. And this message needs to be repeated until action is taken and each client fulfills his or her best intentions.
I recently listened to Professor Moshe Milevsky from the Individual Finance and Insurance Decisions Centre quote the following salient facts from a National Bureau of Economic Research study based on data from the Health and Retirement Study:
1. "People's perception of their own mortality risks are systematically biased..."
2. "... many people respond with a 0% or 100% when asked to estimate the odds for living 20 more years ..."
3. "... people with relatively low life expectancy tend to be overoptimistic and people with relatively high life expectancy tend to be overpessimistic ..."

Mortality Combat
What these facts illustrate is that people are nowhere near the center of gravity when it comes to their own mortality. How can one say that there is a 100% chance that they will be around in 20 more years? The people who need to worry most are living life with rose-colored glasses. What this means for you is that more intent and resilience is required toward confrontation with the inevitable.
If I told you that I could prove--with 100% certainty--that your company was going to go bankrupt, would you want to sit down and prepare? If I told you that I had foolproof evidence that you were about to win the lottery, would you want to plan ahead? Of course you would. Because of the inevitability of the events, you would be a fool not to. Well, and I'm pretty certain actuarial science will back up this assertion, there is a 100% chance that every client will die, and pretty darn good odds that the event will catch them by surprise.
Because of the general public's general reticence to deal with this certainty, I would maintain and exhort that nothing less than evangelistic ardor is required--a Dr. Phil-like propensity for the reality check, the courageous/compassionate confronters, the destroyer of denial, the indefatigable fatalist where death is concerned.
An advisor once told me that he always felt like his job was kind of like the best man at a wedding. He was a witness to the promises being made and would be there down the road to remind the groom of those promises should the need ever arise. It's a beautiful and fitting metaphor for the deeper responsibilities inherent in the financial profession. Nowhere does this analogy resonate more than in the realm of mortality.

Best Intentions
No one intends to leave chaos behind. No one plans to impoverish his or her spouse and children. And no one has a crystal ball. The dead don't live with the consequences of dragging their own heels. The sting is left to those left behind. What is needed is a victory of intent, which sad to say, does not seem to take place for most good people without accountability. Such is the regrettable DNA of the human species.
But who will stand up and hold all the people with good intentions accountable to those intentions? Who will help them keep their promises? Who will persist until action is taken?
We will hear more Gene stories. They will happen in your client base as well. This I am certain because life brings surprises at every turn.
What I wonder more about is ... will we hear more Lori stories?

Mitch Anthony is founder of the Financial Life Planning Institute, an organization focused on educating, training and developing tools for financial advisors.