We talk a lot about how planning is not about products but about offering solutions to clients. The hope is that by presenting them with ideas, not products, we will likely be more successful in gathering clients’ assets. And yet many clients are not getting real financial planning, and many people who say they are planners or wealth managers actually just sell products. Do they lack the skill to be real planners? Or just the will?

My neighbor is a gastroenterologist, and he compares financial plans to colonoscopies: You know you might need one, but somebody has to tell you to do it and it’s not something you should do on your own. The process is painful and you need anesthesia. In fact, you need to set aside a whole day to do it. But in the end, it can save your life.

Good financial advisors save lives, in a way. Perhaps not by facilitating actual breathing and blood flow, but certainly by serving the practical and emotional needs of families by helping them with their income and expenses. In other words, we give them peace of mind. And we do so by inserting ourselves into difficult areas that most clients would not likely go if someone didn’t push them. And we ask awkward and emotional questions.

Compare health to the more abstract concepts of finance and add the equally abstract concept of the future. Human nature in both cases says “avoid,” “delay.” “I’ll do it later.”

Job 1 for financial advisors is to create urgency about these matters. Job 2 is to make ourselves relevant. Planning done right starts with knowing what clients have now and value the most—and showing them how to keep it.

One of the things they likely value is being healthy. But how will they pay for it in the future? And what kind of care do they want to have? There’s a big difference between personalized care on their own terms and standing in line. Do they want independence to live in their own homes or to get around town? Do they like having control of their money? What if they lost control—and independence?

Those are the basic risks you must talk about with clients before talking about investments. You don’t need a three-month process of in-depth planning to get to the issue most concerning to each client household.

The very best and most valuable advisors walk right up to these issues with purpose and a plan. They know from their experience that bad things happen to people who are unprepared for these most basic issues of living, which can change drastically as their clients age. It’s the change that both clients and their advisors often fail to manage—until the client faces some dramatic life event that triggers the need to scramble and solve. Everything is OK—until it’s not.

I got a call from a Fortune 100 CEO a few years ago. He was becoming concerned about his 91-year-old father managing his own accounts. There were no other family members on the accounts. This problem shouldn’t have been a surprise to him. One in four people age 65 and older have dementia or Alzheimer’s. Yet the CEO was beginning to worry now? Yikes.

Age is a thief that steals in the night. It sneaks up on you and takes away capabilities you used to have. It is a stealthy operator that often does its damage undetected—until something dramatic tips its hand—when an aging client falls or suffers an accident or becomes the victim of identity theft or a scam. This stuff happens every day, and advisors truly working for the benefit of their clients and their families know how critical it is to be ready. Denial is not a strategy.

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