"What does all this mean?"

"These kids are growing up so fast."

"How can I make a difference in the world?"

The Ladder To Meaning

In his Sunbridge Strategies estate planning approach, Scott Farnsworth, a lawyer and CFP licensee, talks about three levels of advice that advisors can reach in their approach to clients. The first level is money, the second is meaning and the third and final level is mission. At the money level of advice, the concern is about documents, formulas, short-term answers, time and advice, and the products are about transactions. An advisor who graduates to the rung of meaning is focused on relationships--understanding the client, context and perspective, as well as having meaningful dialogues. At this level, the products are long-term solutions. The greatest height is attained when the advisor deals with issues of mission--vision, insight, significance and wisdom. The product at this level is lifelong value.

Not many make it this far. In an estate-planning context, these lifelong value issues are easier to present, yet the majority of estate planners are transactional in nature. For the everyday advisor to broach the level of "meaning" in discussions, it will take a more concentrated, philosophical inquiry on the front end of the relationship to get anywhere near the center of the clients' lives. What if we asked the following questions:

"What is the absolute best that your money can buy for you in the next 10 years?"

"Ultimately, what do you need this money to do for you and others?"

"Have you explored the ways that money can increase meaning and significance in your life?"

"How can you use your money to make the world a better place?"

"When this money is no longer yours, what do you want it to do?"