Comprehensive" is a dangerous word in a litigious society.

A significant role of a compliance department is to protect the representatives of its brokerage from undue liability exposure. They are the people who amend your letters to change things like "this action will save you taxes" to "this action may save you taxes."

Yet, it is commonplace for fee-based financial plans to use what I consider to be one of the most dangerous words in the English language, "comprehensive."

Comprehensive means: a) wide in scope; b) inclusive; c) extensive; d) sweeping; and e) complete. In other words, "all encompassing."

Although that is a good intention, are you sure that you want to be liable for covering every possible implication under the sun? Is there some facet of your client's financial plan that you might not have addressed?

I know of one financial planner who works with doctors, and part of his services is helping them decorate their offices and buy their office furniture. Did you include that in your last plan? Is his plan more "comprehensive" than yours?

Could any client (or worse, any client's attorney) find something that you did not include in your plan? If so, was it, therefore, not comprehensive?

The CFP Board of Standards has issued a series of practice standards, one of which calls for "the scope of the engagement to be mutually defined by the client and the planner." This is a crucial step in the process. However, can you "limit" the scope of something that is "comprehensive"?

I strongly urge the planning community to stop using "comprehensive" and consider in its place "coordinated" if an adjective is needed.

A coordinated financial plan addresses more than one situation or modular part of a client's financial goals, needs and priorities as mutually defined in the scope of the engagement.

If your engagement's scope is defined as retirement planning, it should certainly consider being coordinated with current cash flow needs and future estate distribution goals, but your engagement can expand or limit what your plan intends to provide.

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