Most advisors can ask these questions, and probably deal quantitatively with the answers, but few advisors have Cooper's medical background. How are they to provide geriatric counseling? Says Diane Pearson with Legend Financial Advisors Inc. in Pittsburgh, "Legend has 23 employees, but no one with specific experience in elder care, so we've linked up with a geriatric care specialist. She will assess a client to help us determine what type of facility will best meet that client's needs." Pearson found her firm's geriatric care specialist through a referral from a local estate-planning attorney.

Cooper agrees affiliations of this type are essential, along with networking among the vast array of elder care professionals that exist today. "Advisors should contact the Alzheimer's Association [ great resource for information on old age as well as referrals] and the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers []," advises Cooper. He suggests planners take to lunch some of the professionals from other fields they meet through these associations. "Particularly if you're in the middle of nowhere-meeting with a geriatric social worker or someone in a related occupation may be your only way to learn this industry."

And how does one get his "soft side" training? Advisors already practicing some form of "life planning" will have an edge. "We're very much a life planning shop, so these are natural conversations for us to have with clients or their children. We look at the client's finances, but we also consider how to [help our client get through this major life change] with as little disruption as possible," Ritter says.

Ritter recalls one situation in which he was working with a young woman on her mother's behalf. "As is often the case, mom wasn't quite ready to admit she needed help, and her daughter felt guilty, saying things like, 'Mom's angry with me ... I'm taking away her independence.' We helped the daughter slowly introduce the concept [of an assisted living facility] to mom so mom could get used to the idea. In the meantime, we were calling different places to arrange meetings with their directors."

Learning that the client was very religious, Ritter found a facility run by the Mercy Hospital system, and was able to arrange a meeting for the mother with its spiritual director so she'd know she'd have a spiritual connection she could depend upon. "I also introduced her to my grandma so she'd know someone there immediately," adds Ritter.

"Soft-side" counseling inevitably deals with clients' almost universal wish to delay action. It's good to be sensitive to clients' fear of rushing into a big decision, but too much sensitivity can be a bad thing. Says Jim Christie at Freedom Financial Planning in Bridgewater, N.J., "In the case of one husband and wife in their early seventies, both were in good health and living on their own. They wanted to stay in the Northern New Jersey area but were concerned their investment portfolio might not sustain them. They also were grappling with the perceived loss of independence by committing to a CCRC. In the end, they decided to wait another year or two before making the commitment. I respected their decision, but cautioned them that, should one of them suffer deteriorating health, it might be more difficult or costly to enter at that time. I've seen this situation several times, and try to encourage friends and clients that the key to CCRCs is to enter when you are still very healthy, not when you are beginning to have major health issues."

Perhaps the best way to uncover and address a client's "soft side" issues is to heed Cooper's warning: "The medical community's standard approach is to treat the patient's 'chief complaint.' But in our work, when people come in with a 'chief complaint,' it's not usually the real problem. For example, if a client says I think my broker's screwing me, we may find after talking further that they can't communicate with their broker, they don't get along with each other, or the client just doesn't understand his investments." In other words, don't take at face value your client's objections to making critical late-in-life care decisions. It's up to you to help him confront his fears and take action."

David J. Drucker, MBA, CFP ([email protected]), a fee-only financial advisor since 1981, is editor of the Virtual Office News monthly newsletter, and co-author of the book Virtual Office Tools for a High-Margin Practice (Bloomberg Press, 2002), both available at

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