Ideas. Lessons Learned, and Occasionally, Opinions


Amy Florian
Amy Florian
Amy Florian's Blog
On July 23, 2018
0 Comment

When your client dies, who owns the pictures on their Facebook page? Who has control of their electronic bill-payment sites or Bitcoin account? Who is responsible for shutting down or memorializing social media sites? Digital rights ownership is an increasingly complex issue as our online lives continue to expand. Are your clients prepared to safeguard these assets after they die? 

If your client does nothing in advance, disposition of digital assets goes according to the TOS (terms of service) of each individual site, which vary widely. In fact, many survivors have been shocked by sites that do not allow transfer of ownership or access upon death, or that complicate the settlement of the estate. Rules have been more flexible for minors in states that allow parents or guardians to manage deceased children’s accounts. Yet some families have had to get court orders to obtain rights to their loved one’s digital accounts, a process that can take months or years. 

The Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act 
Several states began to take action by passing a Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act.   This gave the executor access to all digital accounts and allowed digital assets to pass according to the decedent’s will. However, it ran into legal trouble based on privacy. Some people, for instance, did not want their executor to see highly personal information such as their history of emails and texts, and lawsuits ensued. 
The acts were gradually amended to resolve these issues until finally, in 2017, states began passing the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA). (,%20Revised%20(2015). Forty states have now made it law, and it’s pending in five more plus Washington D.C. It will soon be nationwide. What does this mean for financial advisors and estate planners? Digital property now needs to be part of the estate planning process, and you need to help your clients prepare now for their digital afterlife.  

Access to Digital Assets 

RUFADAA allows the executor or another fiduciary appointed in the will to have access to any electronic or digital sites “necessary” to settle the estate. The necessary sites are largely those involving finances or financial assets, including shopping accounts, automatic bill-paying, online banking, etc. That very narrow provision protects privacy, as it does not allow the executor to access texts, emails, and more private information. 

Yet RUFADAA allows for further permissions if the decedent clearly states so in the will. These permissions can cover desires such as whether a Facebook page is closed or maintained as a memorial page, whether a blog is deleted or archived and kept, and all your client’s other desires for digital sites.  

Sites that fall under RUFADAA are required to give access to the named fiduciary or executor, but that process can take time and involves proving to the site that the client died. If usernames and passwords are accessible immediately, airline miles can be transferred, sites can be closed, and other desired actions can happen with less complication. It is important to note, though, that clients should never include usernames and passwords in the will, as it becomes a public document upon death.

Your Two-Step Process

There are two crucial steps to take with your clients: 

1. Ensure the will includes your client’s intent for the executor or another named fiduciary to have access to digital accounts, how broad those permissions are, and your client’s wishes for disposition. Example: Can the named person see all the tweets, emails, and private personal information, or does access only extend to closing such accounts? What are your client’s desires for each site or each category of sites? 

2. Ensure that your client completes another document giving more specific instructions (i.e. to whom they wish to transfer their airline miles and hotel points), and including usernames and passwords. This document should be signed, dated, and preferably notarized, and kept with the will so instructions are accessible to the executor. 

To facilitate this, recommend that clients use one of the available services (i.e. that generate secure passwords for every site and store the entire array of information necessary for access. The document then only needs to include the master password to that service, plus instructions for any two-factor authentication, so the named fiduciary can easily open the entire vault of usernames and passwords. Since the password storage service is dynamic, it also allows clients to maintain security by changing passwords regularly, without having to re-do the document. 

Instead of allowing individual sites to determine disposition, take these steps to keep your clients in control and remove at least some post-death headaches. They will never forget it! 

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On May 23, 2018
1 Comment

When I was a young widow, there was no such thing as a support group to help me through. There was no such thing as online resources. There were no retreats for widowed people to share their experience. I sometimes thought I recognized the sadness in another person’s face, but I didn’t dare ask if we had a common thread of grief between us. Despite all the well-intentioned people who loved me, I felt alone and lost. I had to figure out this grief thing by myself and find some way to put the pieces back together, heal, and refashion my life.


No widow should grieve alone -- nor do they have to. While there is now a wide variety of places to help widows get counsel, sympathy and share their feelings, one of the most healing is the non-profit organization Soaring Spirits International. Founded by a young widow, Michele Neff-Hernandez, the group offers Camp Widow®, a weekend this program for widowed persons rebuilding their lives, in different parts of the country as well as a variety of other resources.  The value this organization offers is inspiring and I am now a member of their Advisory Board and I teach at their events.

If you have a client who is widowed, I encourage you to tell them about Soaring Spirits. Suggest they chat on its forum, get a pen-pal, read the blog posts of other widowed people, find a regional meeting, check out the long list of recommended resources, register for Camp Widow, gain hope, and know that they are not alone.  


And there are other ways you can help, too. 

  • Be there for your client. Patiently listen to the stories of their loved one.  Rather than attempting to cheer them up, offer a strong shoulder and a listening ear.
  • Don’t ask “How are you?” Instead, ask “What do you wish people knew about what this is like for you?” or “What kind of a day is it today – an up day, a down day, or an all-over-the-place day?” 
  • Help with the details. The death of a spouse uncovers all of the ways a person fails to prepare ahead. Do they have the car title, passwords, and other essential information? Is there a will and advance directives? Offer to help your client manage and complete the paperwork and offer a lockbox service for safekeeping

You have the financial expertise to help your clients, now raise the bar in other areas by learning how to do more to support a client through difficult life transitions. Serve your clients well through the toughest times of their lives, and you help them as well as your business.

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On April 17, 2018
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When Bill Gates pledged $100 million for research on controlling or curing Alzheimer’s disease in our lifetimes, it focused much-needed attention on this dread disease. At Corgenius, when we teach about preparing for it, signs to watch for, and protocols to follow, we often ask the audience how many have a family member affected by Alzheimer’s. Well over half of the hands in the room go up; often it’s nearly unanimous. 

Statistically, 1 in 8 people aged 65 and above have Alzheimer’s disease. Every five years after the 65th birthday the chance of diagnosis doubles. Nearly half of people at age 85 have Alzheimer’s, and one of every three seniors dies with the illness. This epidemic has profound implications for all of us, and especially for financial advisors, who are charged with guiding clients through their elder years in ways that protect their best interests and their financial viability. Here are some resources to help. 

For your own education: Our vote for the best recent resource is “In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s” by Joseph Jebelli. This British neuroscientist has carefully crafted an understandable and comprehensive examination of the history of the disease, causes and characteristics, past and current research, and currently available treatment options. He details the major drug testing failures in the past several years, but ends with hope that in 10 years we reduce Alzheimer’s to a manageable chronic disease like diabetes rather than the debilitating fatal illness is currently is. If you want the best education on the subject and if you appreciated “The Emperor of All Maladies” (which was published in 2010 and examined cancer in the same way), this book is for you. 

For your clients with a diagnosis in the family: “The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss” by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins is a comprehensive listing of what to expect from someone with Alzheimer’s disease along with a wealth of information, tips, skills, and language. The authors incorporate humor, compassion, and realism as they help caregivers and family members cope with the progression of cognitive and physical diminishment while maintaining as much communication and life as possible. Give it to clients and their families as a reliable and highly practical guide. 

For everyone: The Alzheimer’s Association. This dedicated organization offers a wealth of resources and services for anyone concerned about or affected by Alzheimer’s disease. They provide in-home care consults, tracking programs for those who wander, free brochures you can provide in your office, a trial match so clients or their family members can be enrolled in appropriate clinical trials, and more. Check out what your local chapter has to offer.

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On March 17, 2018

There is so very much we don’t understand about dementia. Yet every study contributes valuable information that may be crucial in the future as we work to develop prevention and cure. Recently, there were two developments – one on sense of smell and one on personality changes - to which you can alert your clients.

Regarding smell, scientists studied several factors in reasonably healthy people and then followed them for five years to see who developed dementia. They found that when combined with baseline cognitive function at the start, the most important factor was sense of smell. They specifically studied five scents – orange, leather, peppermint, rose, and fish. The greater number of scents that created difficulty and the more poorly a person could discern these smells, the more likely they were to exhibit dementia five years later. Researchers noted that this can’t be relied on as a singular test, but rather as a realization that sensory function is closely related to brain function, and may be among the first areas to exhibit deficiencies.

Another study focused on the long-recognized fact that personality changes are an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, especially becoming uncharacteristically angry, aggressive, paranoid, or inappropriate. Now researchers have developed a 34-question quiz that can help determine the breadth and depth of behavioral changes, and they are proposing an intermediate diagnosis of mild behavioral impairment. You can see the quiz here. Note that these changes should persist for 6 months and be fundamental changes in behavior in order to indicate problems.

An older test, developed in 2014 by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, is called the SAGE test. You can download a copy here and take the test. Then take the results to your doctor for evaluation and to see whether further tests are justified.

These are all items that you can include in your newsletters for your clients. Let them know you are keeping up to date with this growing issue. Guide them through every transition of their lives. 

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On January 18, 2018
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Life is fragile. We truly never know how long we will have on this earth. It is not true that my parents will surely die before me. It is not true that my children will not die before I do. It is not true that good and deserving people will live long lives. It is not true that “til death do us part” means we have unlimited time. Death always comes too soon. It is not logical, and it is never fair when it is someone you love.

Once I comprehend this reality, I have to choose how to respond. I can become a cynical complainer - Life is not fair, it’s too cold outside, the sun doesn’t shine enough (or the sun glares off the snow when it does shine), nobody appreciates what I do, etc. I can become withdrawn and unwilling to invest in life or relationships – after all, everyone I love is going to die anyway so I may as well save myself the hurt by not loving in the first place.

Or I can respond with unconditional investment in life and love. I know that when I do so, I risk everything. There is no love without hurt, no attachment without loss, no life without death, no summer without winter. But the alternative is to die myself. What do I choose?

Bard Lindeman was a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist for years. After his wife died, he wrote the following in his column:

“As a 41-year-old widower, father to three motherless children, I surely knew loneliness and rampant confusion. However, when someone suggested joining a support group, I balked…I was stupid, mistakenly believing in macho self-reliance, for the way back leads through the community, the world around you. When you’re ready, you need to get up, get out, and get going. Get with people. Find a hobby, take a class at a community college, become a library regular, learn something new, adopt a pet, find a gym and get regular exercise, volunteer to deliver Meals on Wheels, escort a young relative to a baseball game, write letters, plant a tree, subscribe to a newspaper (be informed; your conversation will improve), join a choir, feed the birds, rejoin your veterans association… You get the idea: Construct an action plan that fits your ‘new life’ and stop trying to reclaim the past. Invent a future.”

 It is hard to get the energy and motivation to change your life. It takes time to get comfortable being alone without always being lonely. It takes a certain amount of healing before you can envision a future different than what you had planned before. But those are exactly the things that lead to renewal, happiness, and a life well lived. Today, decide one thing you can do to invest in a new future. You don’t know how long your life will be;

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On December 15, 2017
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The holiday season is laced with minefields for grieving people, especially if they are facing the first holiday season without  loved one. Homes get decorated with sentimental ornaments, candles, and trimmings. Songs carry unbidden emotions. There are countless gatherings of friends and family where the empty chair is all too evident. And because expectations for joy and cheer are so high, these mourners often feel lost, alone, and sad. Your employees, clients, and associates will never forget it if you reach out compassionately during this time, letting them know you understand how hard it is.

Remember not to write cards and notes wishing a “Happy” or “Merry” holiday. Instead, choose texts that wish peace or hope. Then include a hand-written message acknowledging their reality. Here is one possibility: “Wishing you Happy Holidays at a time like this seems hollow. Instead, I wish you peace. I wish you healing. I wish you hope.”

Or: “During this holiday time, I wish you moments of lightness in the midst of the pain. I wish you companionship of beloved people in the midst of the loneliness. I wish you healing as you learn to survive these days. Most of all, I wish you peace.”

Or: “You may find that few people understand what you experience during this holiday season. Try to be patient with yourself and others, as you find your way through the ups and downs it will surely bring. In the meantime, do what seems right to you and take care of yourself. Concentrate on what is most important, and know that I am here for you.”

You may also wish to give or recommend these helpful books:

  1. Alan Wolfelt’s “Healing Your Holiday Grief: 100 Practical Ideas for Blending Mourning and Celebration During the Holiday Season.” Rather than a narrative, it is a list of strategies and tips. Although not every suggestion will make sense for everyone, the list is comprehensive enough that surely some of these practical suggestions will hit home for each of your recipients.
  2. Harold Ivan Smith’s “A Decembered Grief: Living with Loss While Others are Celebrating”. Harold has authored many insightful and practical resources for those who mourn, and this one is no exception. The book sensitively examines the reality of the season for grieving people, and provides comfort and encouragement in its midst.

You may wish to give one or both books to your grieving employees, clients, or associates. These books are small, easy to navigate, cost less than $15 each. With the different formats, the recipients and everyone in their families will be able to find understanding, consolation, and practical help in these pages.

This is a good time to remember, too, that your own holidays don’t have to be unequivocally happy. Allow whatever sadness may come along with whatever joy your heart can hold. Find moments of peace. Give love freely. Care for yourself and be there for those you care about. These are the things that will make it a holiday to remember.


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On October 2, 2017
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When we talk about medical decision-making, especially in the later stages of life, there is a huge disconnect in our society between attitudes and implementation.

In fact, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, only 26% of Americans have living wills or advance directives, even though 86% says it’s important to have their wishes written down. 

As a financial professional who cares about your clients’ lives and the impact of healthcare on their finances, make it a part of your practice to recommend advance directives for every client, and offer the following basic information as a guide. 

In broad terms, an advance directive is any document that allows a person to state “in advance” how they wish to be treated if they are unable to make those choices themselves. The most common advance directive is a living will. Contrary to what many people think, living wills do not have to limit treatment or “pull the plug”; they can also be used to request every medical intervention available. It is up to your clients to state what they wish.

Also, if someone is conscious, capable of making decisions, and able to sign permission forms, there is no need to consult the living will. Living wills only take effect when a patient is unconscious, demented, in the recovery room after surgery, highly medicated, or otherwise incapable of making their own decisions.

Rather than a cursory document with a couple of boxes checked off, the living will ideally is the clearest description possible of that person’s desires. Clients often list their wishes based on various situations, as they may want different treatments when imminently dying of cancer than when in a coma from which recovery is likely. Because perspectives change with age and state of health, these documents should be revisited at least once a year.

The advantages of living wills:

  1. They keep clients in greater control of their lives as well as their deaths, even in cases where they are unable to speak for themselves
  2. They can promote honest conversations within families.
  3. They can help prevent legal battles and courtroom fights.
  4. Survivors of a loved one’s death grieve with fewer regrets and less guilt when they do not have to make treatment decisions without clear instructions from the dying person. 

Common problems of living wills: 

  1. Only a small percentage of people complete one, and when they do, over half do not give copies to anyone. A living will kept in a safe deposit box or desk drawer is inaccessible when decisions need to be made.
  2. As noted previously, the perspectives of a healthy, active person can change dramatically when they actually become ill, and too few people update their documents as they age or diminish.
  3. Living wills are not legally binding upon healthcare professionals, and uninformed family members sometimes override them. The clients’ families, and especially their powers of attorney for healthcare (aka healthcare proxies), need to be informed of their wishes, so they can support those desires with medical providers.
  4. Although they are valid across state boundaries, each state has their own form. Clients who use the standard living will must therefore complete the form provided by the state of primary domicile. 

Just because there are a number of valid concerns about living wills doesn't mean that financial advisers should discourage their clients from creating the documents. Instead strongly encourage clients to write their desires as clearly and specifically as possible.

Some of these concerns are addressed by another form of living will. Consider giving your clients a form called The Five Wishes. It is available at for $5 per copy, or $1 per copy when purchased in quantities of 25. It’s a very inexpensive way to provide real value to clients and their families. 

The form includes everything found in a standard living will from the states. It also includes one legally binding part: The appointment of power of attorney for healthcare. Additional directives include comfort measures a person desires in their room (music, lighting, blankets, religious items), messages to leave with loved ones, and wishes for services. It is a more comprehensive form than the states provide, and almost all states accept it in lieu of their standard form. The only exceptions are AL, IN, KS, NH, OR, OH, UT, and TX, which accept it as long as it is attached to that state’s standard form. 

In other words, The Five Wishes is a more complete form that addresses several concerns rather than only one, and it is accepted in every state (given the minor restriction in the eight states named.) If you are working with estate planning attorneys in your COI network, inform them of The Five Wishes and of your desire to have all of your clients use that form. Then there is less chance of discrepancies and overlap between your work and theirs. Like all forms of this nature, the latest one that is signed, notarized, and dated supersedes all previous copies, so it is not a problem to complete the more comprehensive form even for clients who completed the state’s standard form already.

Regardless of what form clients choose, schedule a follow-up to ensure they actually do complete a living will/Five Wishes, and that it is properly signed and notarized. Encourage them to distribute copies to their family members and to any person or institution involved in their care, including primary doctors, specialists, nursing home, hospice, rehab center, and hospitals. Offer to keep a copy in the client’s files at your office, in case a family member needs one and cannot locate it.

When you educate your clients and prompt them to complete a living will, you ease their fears that someone else will dictate their medical decisions. You keep them in greater control and take a burden off their family members. The resulting peace of mind is invaluable to your clients and consequently good for your business.

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On September 4, 2017
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Imagine a scenario: In the course of a regularly scheduled meeting, you notice that your normally astute and proper client has grown visibly thinner and isn’t dressed to the usual standard. You also observe disturbing memory lapses and mental mistakes, including trouble understanding the concepts you explain.


You express concern, ask the client about it, and encourage him or her to make an appointment for evaluation or medical assistance, but then what? Can you call a family member? How do you avoid violating privacy and confidentiality while still taking action you believe is in your client’s best interest?  


There is a simple but highly effective way to resolve this dilemma that goes one step farther than the usual emergency contact forms that are standard issue in business: Ensure that each of your clients signs a Diminishing Capacity LetterTMA simple template is as follows: 


“I, [name], give [your name(s); company name; location] permission to call the following people in case of illness, emergency, or if they suspect any diminishment in my physical, cognitive, mental, or psychological capacity.” 


The form then has space to list at least three people, with their name, address, relationship to the client, and contact information. Your client signs it, preferably in the presence of a notary public, who dates and notarizes the document. Every year, you revisit the form to see whether names or items of contact information need updating.  


Once the Diminishing Capacity Letter is in place, you no longer need to worry about violating privacy or confidentiality. The client has explicitly given you permission to call specific people, not just for emergencies or medical illness, but also if you are concerned about their cognitive or mental state.  


Making the Call


When you call, remember not to make a diagnosis, i.e. “I think your mom might be heading toward dementia.” While it is typical to think diminished capacity is related to aging or dementia, remember that there are other reasons for cognitive difficulty that have nothing to do with dementia, such as interactions of medications, infections, a vitamin B12 deficiency, emotional trauma or grief, and more.  Regardless of the cause, it is always important to first talk to your client and then to follow up with their contacts if the client does not respond promptly and appropriately.


So rather than suggest a cause, simply list what you see. “I am calling to let you know that I have observed some disturbing signs when I am in contact with your mom. She asked the same question three times in 25 minutes, even though I’d answered it each time, and had trouble following a conversation that normally would be no problem. She also had to think for several minutes before she remembered her grandson’s name. I want you to be aware of what I’m seeing in case you or other family members observe similar things, and you may wish to get her to a doctor for evaluation of the cause.”   


Be sure to document your observations and the phone call itself as evidence that you are doing everything you can to protect your client in all aspects of life. Be a wise guide for your clients in all the situations they may encounter.

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On July 30, 2017
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Have you ever seriously worried about having to live on the streets? Interestingly, that is one of the most common fears of a widow, even if she has more money than she’s ever had due to insurance proceeds. She is afraid it will somehow disappear and she will become a bag lady. In some cases, her situation is precarious enough that the fear is justified and you have to work carefully to preserve whatever funds she has. In many cases, though, the fear is irrational

How do you deal with a client’s irrational fears? Most advisors lay out the facts in logical fashion, often using statistics, charts, and graphs, hoping to demonstrate the groundless nature of the emotion. They don't realize that logic is useless, because emotion and logic literally reside in different parts of the brain. Instead, resolving fears involves giving credence to them, helping her define and list them, and then working with her to imagine solutions.

Allow me a parallel example. My son Steven threw fits at bedtime, because he was convinced the ghosts in the closet would come out at night and “get” him. I used all the logic at my disposal. We turned on the lights and examined every square inch of the closet without finding any ghosts. I sat with him for hours in the dark waiting in vain for ghosts to appear. I garnered the testimony of his older brothers. Nothing worked.

Finally, instead of trying to talk him out of his belief, I acknowledged it as if it were true. “OK, Steven, since there are ghosts in the closet who could come out at night and get you, what would help you feel safe?” We brainstormed ideas until he decided he needed two things: a night light by his bed, and an adult to firmly close the closet door and tell the ghosts they had to stay put until morning. When I implemented his simple solutions he peacefully drifted off to sleep.

With a widow or with any other client with irrational fears, then, do not try to talk her out of being afraid, no matter how compelling the evidence of her safety. She will not feel heard or understood by you unless you acknowledge her fears and find ways to help her feel safe.

This strategy may help:

  1. Introduce the topic. “Everyone in your situations has fears and worries about their money. Some worry about losing all of it; some are afraid the kids won’t approve of how they manage it. You may have some fears, too. Let’s see if we can get them out on the table upfront, so we can deal with them together.”

  2. Get her talking freely. “Go ahead and brainstorm. Name all the money worries you have as they come into your head. They don’t have to be rational. Just start talking and we’ll see what comes out.” After she lists some fears, or if she has trouble thinking of any, elicit her deepest fears by asking, "What is the worst thing you can imagine happening to you financially right now?"

  3. Take notes as she talks. Whenever she names a fear, nod your head or say something affirming like “Uh-huh” or “Yeah, I’ve heard that lots of times. You're not alone.”

  4. Allow silence as she thinks, telling her to take all the time she needs until she’s pretty sure everything is named.

  5. Read the list back to her so she can clarify any point or add others. Assure her she can add to it at subsequent meetings if any additional fears surface later.

  6. Prioritize. “Of all these things, which ones seem the most important or scary to you?” Circle and number them.

  7. Have her write down her top fears. University of Chicago research found that when we write down or write about our fears, it takes away some of their power. If you can, then, have her physically write down the fears that you circled so she can objectively see them in front of her.

  8. Help her imagine solutions. “OK, since these are the things that worry you, what can we do together to keep you safe, and what do you need from me to feel safe?” Suggest financial strategies while also listening to and incorporating her input and discussing risks and benefits of each. In addition, look for non-financial input. Perhaps, for instance, she needs you to call her every week in order to feel safe. Continue the conversation until she agrees to strategies she believes will alleviate her fears.

  9. Create a two-column table in a word document. On one side, list her fears. On the other side, list what you are doing about them. Print it out on letterhead, keep a copy for your files, and give her a copy to keep with her financial papers. You can also email her a copy as an attachment in case she misplaces the hard copy.

  10.  Offer reassurance. Tell her that whenever the fears arise, day or night (and I can guarantee that sometimes it will be in the middle of the night), she can pull out this document, look at her fears, look at what you are doing together, and know that she is safe. Add that if she doesn't feel adequately reassured, she can come in to talk about it again until you find the strategies that work for her.

When you follow this simple procedure, you provide something for a fearful client that few others ever do. You hear her, take her fears seriously, and develop effective strategies for coping with them. That is a sure way to build long-term trust and lifetime loyalty.

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On June 22, 2017
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I didn’t know what to expect the first time I attended. After John died, I hated the box marked “widow” and the very name made people around me uncomfortable. Yet here I was going to a weekend event called Camp Widow

At the opening session, I sat with over 300 other widowed people. The diversity amazed me – all ages, cultures, sexual orientations, and length of marriage (including several who were engaged or unmarried but committed to being together for life). I saw significant numbers in their 20’s, along with the grey-crested faces of older age. Some had young children, many had older kids or adult children, while others had no children at all. For some, the death was sudden, unexpected, and tragic; for others, it had been a long struggle with cancer or illness that finally took their spouse. A few were widowed only weeks before they came; for others it had been months or years.

Throughout the weekend, tissue boxes were everywhere and, for some, tears sometimes flowed like rain, as one expects and welcomes without reservation. But there were also lots of hugs, and it was anything but a sorrowful cry-fest. In fact, I’ve never been around so many widowed people and had so much fun! People were eager to share their stories and honor the love they had, but their main purpose was to gain wisdom and support as they grappled with the challenges of building lives that would be very different from what they had planned. It was comfortable and comforting, and people walked away with new friends plus a good dose of hope.

All of this is made possible by a non-profit organization titled Soaring Spirits International. Founded by a determined young widow, Michele Neff-Hernandez, the group now offers three Camp Widow® events a year (Tampa, San Diego, and Toronto), online support, a packet for newly widowed people, and a host of other resources. I am so impressed with this organization that I am now a member of the Advisory Board.

In my professional and personal spheres, I work to shine a light into the darkness of grief, to educate those who want to support the people they care about when they are grieving, and to help people heal. That is also the mission of Soaring Spirits. If you have widowed clients – men or women, young or old – feel confident in referring them to for resources and help. Perhaps I’ll even see them at an upcoming Camp Widow ® weekend!

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On April 13, 2017
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National Healthcare Decisions Day kicks off on April 16th with a week of planned events to “inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning.”

As a financial professional, you may find clients turning to you for information, especially as they approach retirement or, more likely, when they face issues with aging parents. In order to guide them wisely, it is essential that you are educated on advance directive documents.

In broad terms, an advance directive is any document that allows a person to state “in advance” how they wish to be treated if they are unable to make those choices themselves. The most common advance directive is a living will. Contrary to what many people think, living wills do not always limit treatment or “pull the plug”; they can also be used to request every medical intervention available.

Also, if someone is conscious, capable of making decisions, and able to sign permission forms, there is no need to consult the living will. Living wills only take effect when a patient is unconscious, demented, or otherwise incapable of making their own decisions.

The living will should be the clearest description possible of the person’s desires. Clients often list their wishes based on various situations, as they may want different treatments when imminently dying of cancer than when in a coma from which recovery is likely.

 The advantages of living wills:

  1. They keep people in greater control of their lives and deaths, even in cases where they are unable to speak for themselves.
  2. They can promote honest conversations within families.
  3. They can help prevent legal battles and courtroom fights.
  4. Survivors of a loved one’s death grieve with fewer regrets and guilt when they do not have to make treatment decisions without clear instructions from the dying person. 

Common problems of living wills:

  1. Only a small percentage of people complete one, and when they do, over half do not give copies to anyone. A living will kept in a safe deposit box or desk drawer is inaccessible when decisions need to be made.
  2. The perspectives of a healthy, active person can change dramatically when they actually become ill, and too few people update their documents as they age or diminish.
  3. Living wills are not legally binding upon healthcare professionals, and uninformed family members sometimes override them. Family should be informed of the person’s desires, so they can support those desires with medical providers.
  4. Each state has their own form, so clients who use the standard living will must complete the form from their state of primary domicile.

But just because there are a number of valid concerns about living wills doesn't mean that financial advisers should discourage their clients from creating the documents. Instead:

  1. Strongly encourage clients to write their desires in as clearly and specifically as possible.
  2. Consider giving your clients a living will form called the Five Wishes document. It is available at for $5 per copy, or $1 per copy when purchased in quantities of 25. The form includes everything found in a standard living will as well as names of healthcare proxies; additional directives such as comfort measures a person desires in their room (music, lighting, blankets, religious items); messages to leave with loved ones, and wishes for services.
  3. Schedule a follow-up to ensure clients actually do complete a living will/Five Wishes, and that it is properly signed and notarized.
  4. Guide clients to distribute copies to their family members and to any person or institution involved in their care, including primary doctors, specialists, nursing home, hospice, rehab center, and hospitals. Offer to keep a copy in the client’s files at your office, in case a family member needs one and cannot locate it.
  5. Add the updating of all advance directive documents to the agenda for your annual review meeting, so your client’s wishes are kept up to date.

When you educate your clients and prompt them to complete a living will, you ease their fears that someone else will dictate their medical decisions. You keep them in greater control and take a burden off their family members. You help them have valuable discussions with those they love. The resulting peace of mind is invaluable to your clients and consequently good for your business.

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On March 26, 2017
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The Cobbler's Shoes

Perhaps you have noticed that those who most effectively teach skills and protocols to others are sometimes the most remiss in their own recommendations. For example, I know a doctor who ignored her own early warning signs of cancer, and an insurance agent who left his wife with nothing because he let his life insurance policies lapse. While it’s easy to roll your eyes, consider yourself as a financial professional and whether you have your own house in order.

  • Do you and all the adult members of your family have an updated will and power of attorney for finance?
  • Do you have accessible and complete copies of your healthcare advance directives, including your healthcare power of attorney?
  • Is your personal retirement plan on track?
  • Do you have a firm succession plan in place should you retire, die, or become disabled?
  • If you died last night, would your family know what to do today, including where to find all your important documents?
Closely examine the advice and guidance you give to clients concerning their financial, healthcare, and retirement plans, and see where the gaps are for yourself and those you love. Then make a commitment to fill in those gaps. Doing so may require having some uncomfortable conversations, but just as with your clients, the results will be well worth it. You will never regret preparing now for whatever may come; you will definitely regret it if you don’t.
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On March 2, 2017
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The president and CEO of a prominent asset management firm recently proposed that although sex was a taboo subject for a long time, the last remaining taboo in our society is money.  I’d like to take issue with that assertion.

It does seem that sex is no longer taboo, at least in the public arena. Sex is used to sell everything from clothes to vacations, sex education  is required in schools, and sex is the subject of more web sites than any other topic. There are a number of gurus dispensing advice on sexual matters, and in recent years companies selling remedies for sexual dysfunction have recruited prominent politicians and entertainers as spokespeople. Indeed, sex is no longer taboo.

Yet money seems to be in a similar category.  It is the subject of endless conversations, speculation, and media coverage.  Well-known pundits spout opinions and give advice on all things financial. Morning news shows regularly interview investment experts.   Magazines, newspapers, and online columns wax eloquently about economics, savings rates, the best stock picks, and IRA’s. Political candidates consider money – who has it, who spends it, and where it is spent – to be a central issue. Money hardly seems a taboo subject.

What, then, IS the final taboo?  What issue has no talk show pundits or advice columnists offering tips?  What is generally pushed out of our collective consciousness, suppressed, denied, and avoided?

Check your own response when you read the word "death".  If you are like most people, you recoil at the very thought of it. There are no key spokespersons giving information and advice about the process and how to deal with it.  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was long recognized as an expert, but her book On Death and Dying was published in 1969 and Elisabeth herself died several years ago. She temporarily opened the topic, but most of us simply avoid talking about death or facing its inevitability.

The interesting thing is that death used to be familiar. In generations past, grandparents lived with or near their kids and grandkids.  When elders got sick, the family cared for them at home.  When they died, family members lovingly washed and clothed the body, and the wake occurred in the living room. Children were exposed to death as a natural and normal part of life as the entire clan gathered to remember the one who died.  

In recent generations, families began to scatter and both spouses started working. With no fulltime caregivers at home, sick and dying people were moved into hospitals and nursing homes.  Medical technology prolonged life, often seemingly conquering death. Once death did occur, care of the body was shifted to funeral home personnel who quietly performed their duties out of sight. 

As a result of these changes, public perception shifted. Death was no longer considered a normal, natural, and expected part of life.  It became the unexpected and unnatural interruption to normal life.  In modern society, we seem to believe that death is not inevitable, that it won’t happen to us or to anyone we love (at least not until we’re 99 years old and ready to die anyway).  We actively avoid talking or even thinking about it. When death happens, we are shocked and look for someone to sue.

The last taboo, then, is not sex or money.  It is death.  This means most people you encounter, both professionals and clients alike, are unconsciously ignorant about what to say, what to do, and how to support someone who is facing death or grieving the death of a loved one.  The flip side of the equation is that if you do know what to say, what to do, and how to support grieving people, you immediately distinguish yourself in the field.  You serve your clients more compassionately, genuinely, and effectively, and build a reputation for understanding a client’s experience in a way that few other professionals do. 

It is very good for your clients, and consequently it is very good indeed for your business. 

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On January 17, 2017
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When a client or colleague receives  serious diagnosis or needs to undergo surgery, chemotherapy, or other treatments, people often rally around with support. They offer to bring food, provide rides to doctor’s appointments, watch the kids, etc. While grateful for all the offers, most people are still overwhelmed by trying to keep their network informed of medical progress, juggling responsibilities at work, and coordinating the needed help, all in the midst of the intense emotional and physical drain of the situation.  

You can help alleviate that stress. There are several ways you can provide support that is different than what most people do. For example,  

  1. Create a hospital “care package.” Families are often reluctant to leave their loved one’s room when they visit, even if the patient is asleep. Yet hospital air is dry and there is little to do. Create a care package that includes bottles of water and juice, and snacks like protein bars, almonds, chocolates, and pretzels. Add puzzle books like crosswords or Sudoku (with a couple of pencils), and two or three magazines for light reading. If the patient is well enough for visitors, make a brief visit yourself and deliver the package. If not, call a family member to get a time when you can drop it off at the home.
  2. Form a team to do errands or work that needs to be done. Examples: Mow their lawn. Pick up dry cleaning. Arrange for house cleaning. Make phone calls. Anything the family needs that you can provide.
  3. Create a one-page listing of resources for the patient’s family to use. Do research to find local resources, and also include services such as these free web sites:

    •  This is a comprehensive meal organization site. The family creates a private online sign-up sheet, friends sign up for specific days and times, and they receive automatic reminders. The site includes a range of recipes for foods that transport well. It also has the option of purchasing items from their store of prepared meals and foods that can be sent directly to the family.  Similar sites include and

    • This is a donor-supported ministry whose site is used to coordinate meals as well as other types of help, such as taking children to their activities or doing yard work. One person or team takes charge of monitoring the calendar. The family lists what help they need and when, and those who can assist sign up. The site sends reminder emails and allows the family to upload photos and post update messages.  Similar sites include and

    •  This provides a way to communicate with many people at once. After the family creates their private personalized Caring Bridge site, a process that takes only a couple of minutes, friends, co-workers, colleagues, and family register on it. Everyone who is registered receives an email whenever the family posts something – i.e. the results of the latest tests, how it’s going that day, or whatever they wish to communicate. Everyone at work and in the friendship circle is updated without the necessity of making countless phone calls or repeating the story endlessly. Those who are registered can then reply on the site if they choose, and the family can read the messages when it is convenient, saving or deleting them as they desire. 

Spare your client or colleague the legwork by providing resources like these. Depending on your relationship, you may even wish to participate in offering practical help to the family. Regardless, let them know you care by providing concrete assistance at a tough time

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On December 30, 2016
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Mid-winter can be a difficult time no matter your life circumstances. The weather is colder, days are darker, and it can seem like life retreats for a while. This is especially true when you enter a new year without a beloved person who died. How do you cope? Here are ten tips for finding comfort in 2017. 

  1. Get outside. Studies show that nature is calming to human brains, and being outside can help reset your mindset. Schedule regular appointments with yourself to go for a walk, snow-ski or ice skate, hike, or do something outdoors. 
  2. Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is a great way to curb appetite, boost immunity, and maintain energy levels. 
  3.  Avoid excess caffeine. A cup of Joe in the morning is fine, but avoid it in the afternoon. Caffeine’s effects last for hours and can interfere with the sleep you so desperately need to maintain your equanimity. 
  4. Drink green tea. It has more anti-oxidants than blueberries along with metabolism-boosting benefits that help you maintain your weight, all with less caffeine than coffee or black tea.
  5. Help someone else. Even when you're sad, you have something to give that can make someone else's life more enjoyable. Consider simple things - donating an old coat, smiling at every clerk you encounter in the store, or paying it forward in the coffee or fast food line. Mix in volunteer opportunities like serving in a soup kitchen, tutoring kids at school, working on a charity fund-raising event, or anything that gets you outside of yourself to make a difference in someone else’s life. 
  6. Find time to relax. Take a bath with Epsom salts and essential oils. If a bath isn’t your thing, get a massage. Or just take a few minutes to breathe deeply and consciously relax your mind and body. 
  7. Exercise. Even moderate exercise releases “feel-good” endorphins, focuses your mind, reduces depression, and helps you process your post-holiday and new-year feelings. In fact, some researchers are proposing exercise in place of anti-depressant medication, with studies showing that it can be just as effective.
  8. Take time to socialize. Don't assume your friends know how you feel or what you need. Take the guess work out by letting them know what would be helpful. At the same time, it’s OK to ignore all their well-meaning but misguided advice. Actively reach out and work to retain old friends even as you build new ones with people who understand your grief and offer hope. 
  9. Break up the usual routine by taking a day trip. Choose a place you've never been, explore a museum at your leisure, attend an interesting seminar, or learn something new. 
  10.  Practice gratitude and graciousness. Every evening list at least three things for which you are grateful from that day. Let go of hurts from the past and forgive those who don’t understand or who have hurt you. Carry a thankful attitude into the new year. Any of these things can help. Do as many of them as your energy level allows, and commit to doing more as the year progresses. Even in the midst of loss, life is worth living. It holds surprises and yes, even joy, for those who choose to engage. Don’t let death win. Choose life. May your new year hold healing, peace, growth, and hope.
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On November 28, 2016
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It’s almost time to send out holiday greetings to your clients. Yet what if your client’s family member died this year? If you send them a card wishing "Happy Holidays", then at best you tell them you treat your clients generically, sending the same card regardless. At worst, it lets them know you don’t understand at all and, like the rest of society, expect them to paste on a smiley-face and “be happy for the sake of the season”. In either case, the card heads straight to the trash, never to be remembered. 

It is never a good idea to wish “Happy Holidays” to people going through the toughest time of their lives. Instead, you can offer authenticity and genuine comfort, distinguishing yourself from everyone else and helping your client at the same time. The first step is to choose a card that does not say Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, etc. Choose one that either has no words or that wishes peace or hope. Then include a hand-written note inside and consider including a gift card for a cup of coffee, a movie, a massage, or something else comforting.  

Here are some possibilities: 

  • “Wishing you Happy Holidays at a time like this seems hollow. Instead, I wish you peace. I wish you healing. I wish you hope.”
  • “During the holiday season, [name]’s absence is sure to be painful. It may be made even worse because most of the people around you will be afraid to say [his/her] name for fear of making you sad. I know I can’t make that void disappear, but I hope you can at least catch a moment of respite with the enclosed gift card. I am thinking of you and remembering <name>, especially now.” 
  • “The holidays will bring a mix of emotions as you remember the happy times with [name] and yet mourn [his/her] absence. I hope you can allow yourself to experience it in your own way, acknowledging the happy and the sad, so you can come out on the other side with greater hope and peace. I’ll call you soon to check in and see how it’s going.”
  • “During this holiday time, I wish you moments of lightness in the midst of the pain. I wish you companionship of beloved people in the midst of the loneliness. I wish you healing as you learn to survive these days. Most of all, I wish you peace.”
This should give you some ideas to go on, so you can create personalized holiday cards that support your grieving clients in ways that others don’t. They will notice, and they will deeply appreciate it. From what grieving people tell us, that is priceless. Read More »
On October 20, 2016
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Imagine a client’s daughter was in a bad car accident and is now in the hospital for what looks to be an extended stay. You call your client and spend 30 minutes asking questions and listening as the client pours out the story. As you hang up, you promise your continued contact and support. Then what? How do you best fulfill that promise? Here are three effective steps you can take that are different than what most people do: 

  1. Create a hospital care package. Families are often reluctant to leave their loved one’s room when they visit, even if the patient is asleep. Yet hospital air is dry and there is little to do. Create a care package that includes bottles of water and juice, and snacks like protein bars, almonds, chocolates, and pretzels. Add puzzle books like crosswords or Sudoku (with a couple of pencils), and two or three magazines for light reading. If the patient is well enough for visitors, make a brief visit yourself and deliver the package. If not, call the client to get a time when you can drop it off at the home. 

  2. Offer to do errands or work that needs to be done. Examples: Mow their lawn. Pick up dry cleaning. Arrange for house cleaning. Drive children to activities. Make phone calls. Anything the family needs that you can provide. 

  3. Plenty of people will bring cooked meals to the house. If you wish to bring food, be aware of the family’s food allergies and preferences. Then concentrate on items that are less frequently offered - fresh foods like fruits and bananas, yogurt and/or cheese, milk or other beverages, eggs, salsa, hummus, spinach dip, etc. Also consider packaged goods that will keep for a long time if they aren’t consumed currently, such as peanut butter, crackers or tortilla chips, packaged popcorn, pretzels, or cereal. 

These items give families a range of foods for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Each of these steps offers concrete, tangible benefits for the family of a hospitalized loved one. At the same time, they are things that fewer people will do, making your contribution even more notable. Use or modify these ideas to allow you to do the right thing for your client at a very difficult time.

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On September 15, 2016
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We do a lot of training at Corgenius in choosing appropriate cards and knowing what to write in them, especially when there has been a loss or life-changing transition. Countless times, people have asked me why I don’t just create a line of cards. That’s not something I have time or interest for, but today I offer you the next best thing.

I met Anne Kertz Kernion a couple of years ago and now I buy a majority of my cards from her company, Cards by Anne ( These hand-designed cards are thoughtful, beautiful, and high-quality. Most agree with the principles I teach at Corgenius. And they are an incredible bargain at only $1.25 each. 

Another benefit - you can now get a condolence card with one of my quotes on the cover. Recently, Anne encouraged me to submit quotes for her consideration in designing cards. She then sent a mailing to her very large database and asked them to vote on a wide range of submitted quotes, promising that the top three vote-getters would be incorporated into cards. One of my quotes won by a landslide. (I even out-ranked Pope Francis! I don't imagine that will happen again!)

Of course, Anne's cards still don't solve the problem of what you will write inside. To learn more about this sometimes thorny issue, consider checking out my book “No Longer Awkward”, which contains over 100 texts that you can modify and use for various purposes.

So when you go to the Cards by Anne web site, you will see my card displayed there. Hopefully there will be more in the future. I encourage you to peruse Anne’s other cards as well. I suspect you’ll find yourself returning there again and again for both personal and professional purposes.

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On August 5, 2016
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Picture this scenario, which gets repeated all too frequently: 

A young man goes to college. Two months later he is rushed to the hospital and into the operating room for an emergency appendectomy. His mother calls the hospital in a panic and asks to know what is happening with her son. The hospital says, “I’m sorry; I cannot give you that information.” She says “But I’m his mother!” The response: “That doesn’t matter. For all of our adult patients, we can only give information to those authorized to receive it, and you are not authorized.” 

You’ve educated your clients on the need for a Power of Attorney for Healthcare (aka healthcare proxy) for themselves, listing who can make their medical treatment decisions if they are unconscious or incapable of making those decisions. Clients may also be aware that HIPAA forms, which they regularly fill out at the doctor’s office when they have appointments, detail who can have access to their medical records.

What most clients don’t realize is that their kids need to have these documents in place as soon as they turn 18. Then they are legal adults, and no one gets access to their medical records or treatment information without express permission. 

To avoid nightmare scenarios, take the following steps: 

  1. Ensure all of your clients complete the Power of Attorney for Healthcare, listing a trusted person and at least one alternate in case the designee cannot serve. Also remind them that when they update their HIPAA forms with their doctors, they need to include those same trusted people and perhaps other family members as well. 
  2.  Keep track of clients’ children as they age. Offer to start educating the children about financial matters as soon as they are old enough, so that over time they learn about building a budget, the value of compound interest, the cost of long-term debt like a mortgage or lengthy car payment plan, the benefits of regular savings, and the realities of paying for college. Then, as soon as they turn 18, make sure the now-adult children have a Power of Attorney for Healthcare, hopefully naming the parents as their healthcare proxies, and that they fill out the HIPAA forms at their doctor’s office.
  3. When an adult child goes to college, recommend that parents ensure the child fills out a HIPAA form at the Student Health Service and at the hospital in the town, listing the parents and perhaps other trusted family members as people who can have access to medical records.

If the aforementioned young man had these documents in place, his panicked mother would have been given full access to his medical records and the details of his situation. She would also have had the right to make treatment decisions on his behalf while he was unconscious and unable to make them himself. 

Especially given the state of our healthcare system, your clients and their family members need to take control of assuring who has access to medical information and the right to make treatment decisions. Addressing these areas with your clients helps you protect them and also extends your reach into the next generation. Any client who encounters such a situation will be forever grateful for your wise and prescient guidance. 

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On July 14, 2016
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A salesperson called me a few days ago. He was so convinced of the value of his product that after our initial pleasantries, he praised its attributes for several minutes. I asked one question and he talked on for several more minutes. His mistake was that he didn’t stop talking long enough to find out why I might need his product or how it could best serve me. He lost the deal because he knew how to talk about what he was selling but he didn’t know how to listen to me.

How does this relate to serving clients experiencing loss or transition? Like the worst salespeople, the least supportive advisors are those that don’t know how to ask good questions and listen. There is often a chorus of objections at this point. Usually they sound like these: 

  • I am a financial professional, not a psychologist. I’m not going to ask my clients about their grief.
  • I don’t want to make my clients cry in my office. That’s bad for business. 
  • I don’t want to get in over my head. I’ll ask questions, but only about investments. 
  • I don’t want to intrude into a client’s personal life, or force myself into areas where I don’t belong. 
  • If clients bring it up, I will be happy to listen. But the last thing I want to do is ask about their difficult experience. 

Sound familiar? Let’s look closer. 

First of all, consider the flip side. What are the consequences of refusing to ask questions? If you carefully avoid the topic and do not bring your client’s grief into the room, there is a big white elephant sitting on the table between you. You both know it’s there but you are trying to ignore it, look over it, slide it to the side, or otherwise pretend it’s not there. It adds a level of tension as you participate in the game of mutual deception.

This feels very familiar to grieving clients, because they encounter it everywhere. Most people, from family to casual acquaintances, don’t know what to say so they say nothing at all. They talk about anything and everything except the person who died. They try to cheer grievers up, hoping to make them feel better. The bereaved people, not wanting to make others uncomfortable, go along with it, but it feels inauthentic and they walk away alone, isolated, and unsupported. Is that how you want your clients to leave your office?

The minute you acknowledge the truth, the big white elephant disappears. For instance, you can ask something simple such as: “What do you wish people knew about what it’s like for you now, a month after Paul died?” or “What has surprised you about the experience of going through Paul’s death?” When you ask an invitational, open-ended question like these, the big white elephant disappears and the tension evaporates. They know you care enough to ask, whether or not they choose to accept your invitation and talk about it. They know you aren’t avoiding the topic or hiding behind your spreadsheets.

Additionally, if they do choose to tell the story and you listen with care, you offer them support they aren’t getting from others. You genuinely help and comfort them, and at the same time you distinguish yourself in the field. You build a level of trust and loyalty you can’t get anywhere else. It’s good for your clients, and it just happens to also be good for business. 

The bottom line: You have a lot to lose if you don’t ask; you have nothing to lose if you do. 

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On June 10, 2016
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Grief hurts—psychologically, emotionally, and physically. A duo of psychiatrists (Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe) created the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) after research with over 5000 patients. They found a high correlation (0.118) between stressful life events and physical illness, and their results were validated in subsequent studies. On this scale, the two most stress-inducing events are death of a spouse and divorce. This comes as no surprise, since these two events change every moment of one’s life.

What is surprising, though, is that three of the top ten are positive transitions, including marriage, retirement, and marital reconciliation. Likewise, the top twenty includes positive events like pregnancy, gaining a new family member, a change in financial state (for worse or for better), and changing to a different line of work (whether unwanted or, more often, a positive choice). Outstanding personal achievement ranks as 25th in stress-inducing events. We think of these as happy occurrences, worthy of parties and celebrations. Yet each one carries a high level of stress and grief as people move from one state of life to another. 

In other words, your clients grieve when they go through positive transitions as well as negative. Can you be the wise advisor who recognizes their mixed emotions? Distinguish yourself by asking good open-ended questions so clients know you understand in ways that others don’t.

A few examples:

  • “It’s wonderful to finally reach retirement, but you have to leave a lot behind as well. What do you really miss about your old life?”
  • “I know you’ve been looking forward to having a family for a long time. Parenting is not easy, though. Taking a guess, I imagine you miss things like a good night’s sleep or the ability to go out without carrying a minor U-Haul. Is that right, or what else have you found challenging about having a baby?”
  • “It sounds like people are reacting to the news of your divorce in ways that run the gamut from wanting to throw you a party to crying in disbelief. What do you wish people knew about what you are experiencing?”
  • “The new job is so exciting, but it has to be a real challenge, too. In what ways is your life different now, both positive and negative?” 
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On May 25, 2016

Picture a scenario in which your client’s father dies after a lengthy illness. Countless people come through the services and say to the family, “At least he’s no longer suffering.” They intend to be comforting, to help the family feel better and focus on the positive. But that’s not what happens. Instead, what survivors hear behind those words is “It’s not right for you to be sad over his death. You should be relieved and happy that he’s out of pain, and instead you’re focusing on yourself. How can you be so selfish?”

The reality is that survivors are indeed glad he’s no longer suffering. They are also relieved that they don’t have to suffer any more watching him die inch by inch. At the very same time, though, they miss him. They long for his presence, his smile, his hug. At times they focus on the relief, and at times they are overwhelmed by the void. Death is a “both-and” event, both happy AND sad, both relieved AND lost. 

It is much better to acknowledge both sides of the equation. Instead of saying “At least he’s no longer suffering,” say “We’re all relieved that he’s no longer suffering. No one would want him to suffer. And yet, we’re really going to miss him.” Ideally, follow that up with an anecdote that illustrates the loss, i.e. “I’m especially going to miss his big bear hugs. No one could hug like that!” 

If you can't offer an anecdote yourself (many advisors have not met the father of their clients), then after you remark that no one would want him to suffer, ask the client for a memory: “And yet, your family is really going to miss him. In fact, tell me something you will miss, or some story you hope people will remember about him.” Using techniques like this to authentically recognize the intensely mixed emotions of grief demonstrates profound understanding and offers genuine comfort. Your clients will not forget it….nor will they forget you.

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On April 10, 2016
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You may have seen the news: We have another drug that is showing some promise in slowing Alzheimer’s disease. This is how it works: 

Beta amyloid plaques, or build-up of “sticky” proteins on the neurons, is one characteristic of the disease. Not all people who have beta amyloid plaques have Alzheimer’s, but every person with Alzheimer’s has beta amyloid plaques. With the aid of improved brain scan techniques that more accurately detect them plaques, one focus of research is to prevent, slow, or dissolve the proteins. 

Many antibodies have been in clinical trials for some time. Crenezumab, for instance, is showing some promise in early-onset Alzheimer’s. But recently another antibody called Solanezumab became the first one proven to show definitive results in slowing beta amyloid plaque build-up on neurons, at least temporarily.  

We are still a long way from a cure. There is no drug or treatment, including Solanezumab, which is capable of preventing or curing Alzheimer’s. All we can do is slow the progression of symptoms for anywhere from a few months to a few years. There is no “fix”. Sooner or later the disease takes over again. Yet every step helps. 

What can you do? 

  1. Note that research into Alzheimer’s is dramatically underfunded compared to other diseases that affect large portions of the population. So consider making a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association in memory of any clients who are diagnosed with or die from this cruel disease. 

  2. Include informational tips in your newsletters so you are giving your clients something besides just financial news. You can get information from these newsletters, from the Alzheimer’s Association itself or your local chapter, or from the government (see  or ).

  3. Ensure that your clients and their aging parents have valid and updated advance directives listing the treatment they want or don’t want if they are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

  4. Create a branded page of resources so you are prepared when a client is concerned about a family member. Include the names of the memory care facilities in the area and make sure you meet the directors so you can make a personal introduction with clients. Ask those directors for the names of geriatric care specialists and doctors who specialize in memory care, so you can have them on your list. Discover where there is adult day care and/or respite care available for those who hope to keep their loved ones at home. Research the availability of meal delivery services, bill payment services, in-home spa services (haircut, massage, manicure/pedicure, etc.), and any other services you find that may help patients or their in-home caregivers.

  5. Consider partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association and/or Corgenius to host a client education seminar on what to watch for, how to prepare ahead of time, and what resources are available if there is a diagnosis. 

    Remember, one in nine people aged 65 and over have Alzheimer’s disease and someone is diagnosed in the U. S. every 67 seconds. Inevitably, at least some and possibly most of your clients will be affected sooner or later. Prepare them now, and let them know you care about their lives and health, not just their money. 
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On March 28, 2016
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The population is aging and the ranks of widows, currently consisting of 11.3 million women, will continue to swell. This devastating transition prompts a high percentage to switch financial advisors or seek one out for the first time. They are aware that hundreds of thousands of advisors can invest their money, but they want more. They look for a competent professional who understands their grief and the challenges of their lives, and that is where they will place their business.

For future success, it is therefore crucial that financial professionals educate themselves so they understand the grief process and are equipped to communicate with and support widows. Use these five easy starting points to improve your service to widowed women:

  1. Ask good questions and really listen to her answers. Too many people tell a grieving widow they know how she feels, or they offer advice on how she should feel. Distinguish yourself by being willing to invite her story so you find out how she actually does feel. Ask non-invasive questions like “What do you wish people knew about what you’re going through?” or “What things have people said that were helpful, and what have they said that was unintentionally hurtful to you?” Listen well, and ask further questions based on what she tells you.

  2. Every time you talk to the widow, whether on the phone or in person, give her the next time you will call to check in. Grieving people are often anxious about becoming a burden to others. Calling anyone to ask for assistance takes courage and the willingness to risk rejection, both of which are in short supply. It is incredibly reassuring to know that you will call her instead. When you call, begin by asking what kind of a day it is for her and listen to her experience before going on to ask what questions she has for you.

  3. Act in straightforward ways that build her competence. Widowed women are afraid others will take advantage of them. Take great care not to speak in a condescending tone or to convey the impression she is incapable, deficient, or less than a full partner in the process. Assess her level of knowledge and educate her to the depth she desires. Keep her updated with easy-to-understand bullet points and summaries of your activities together, including the basic rationale behind them.

  4. Consider providing non-financial resource lists. Use input from clients, friends, and associates to build a non-financial resource-and-referral list. Then if she needs a professional service (anything from car maintenance to a plumber), she doesn’t have to pick someone out of the yellow pages. Remind her that your list is based on input from many people and you are continually refining it, so you look forward to getting her feedback afterwards. When you follow up, thank her for helping you make it easier for others in her situation who need services in the future.

  5. Be patient with her.
    Grief is a lengthy and somewhat unpredictable process, especially after such a major loss. Expect ups and downs, with frequent sad periods for months. Many widows describe the second year as even harder than the first, since the reality has fully sunk in and they’ve let go of so much, but they have not yet developed new goals or a meaningful purpose in life. Be among the few people who are willing to listen and support her over the long haul.

These are just a few of the concepts to put into practice so you can serve the ever-growing numbers of widowed women who will cross your path.

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On January 21, 2016
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It happens all too often these days. You pick up the phone and there is an angry client on the other end. The market has dropped yet again. More money disappeared. Emotions are at the boiling point. How do you handle it? 

Most advisers try to calm clients by “talking them down,” logically explaining the reasons why they should not be angry, or at least not angry at them. In some cases, this seems to work. Yet once clients hang up the phone, they are just as likely to mutter, “Yeah, that's what they all say.” 

You can more effectively address these strong emotions when you realize that your clients are angry because they are grieving. They feel they are losing something very important to them. Their attachment to their money is deep and complex because of what that money represents. For example, money can represent security, success, self-worth and identity. When money gets taken from them against their will, they are thrown into grief over their many and varied losses, and anger is a normal response to that grief. In addition, people often use anger as a cover emotion for a host of other feelings like fear, and they naturally search for someone to yell at or to blame. 

The trick is to allow clients to yell and vent their emotions to you without becoming the person they blame for the loss. In simplified terms, you need to recognize, name and allow their emotions, taking everything they have to dish out. Then, when their anger is spent, you can more calmly talk with them about how you will handle things together. So how do you do that? 

First, take a deep breath. Keep your voice measured and even. One useful tool is to make yourself smile. When you smile, your voice is automatically more calming, and it is easier to keep your own emotions in check. 
Then, to validate your clients and encourage them to talk it out, you can say things like: 

  1. “I can see that you feel very angry about this, and I can see why. Tell me more.” 
  2. “Yes, it is scary not knowing when the slide will stop. What are you most worried about?” 
  3. “You're absolutely right. We're all vulnerable and at the mercy of the markets right now. Everyone I talk with is upset and anxious. Have you found anyone who isn't?” 
Notice how each of these phrases authenticates emotions your client is feeling, and then invites them further into a conversation of partnership rather than conflict. It lets them know you are on their side and you understand. If clients start to blame you anyway, always try to climb back into their boat. Use the word “we” frequently. Keep them focused on the future, rather than the past. Request their input. 

For example: 

  1. “Yes, it is a helpless feeling to see the markets at least temporarily take away some of the fruits of our work together.” 
  2. “We always positioned you in the best way possible to withstand volatility like this. In fact, if we had it to do over again, knowing only what we knew at the time, I think we would have done the same things. What do you think?” 

Continue this pattern, always asking questions based on what the client is saying. You will notice the pitch of the voice lowering, longer pauses and slowed breathing as the anger gets spent and the client calms. Only then can you begin talking about what you can do together as you go forward. Ask what steps the client would like to take. Make appropriate suggestions for portfolio review, redistribution of assets, or simply keeping in contact every week or two. 

At the end of the conversation, make sure you thank clients for being honest with you. Tell them your door is always open, and you will listen even when it is hard. Reassure them that although times are really tough right now, you can weather the storm together and come out on the other side. 

If you can master these skills, your clients will come out of even angry conversations feeling heard, supported, and most of all, loyal to you. 

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On January 15, 2016
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It is inevitable. As a professional with long-term clients, soon or later you will be face-to-face with a client in grief or transition. What do you do? What do you say? 

If you find yourself at a loss for words, you are not alone. There has never been a financial advisor’s guide that explains what to say (or what not to say) and how to handle these potentially challenging and professionally awkward situations. When I became a 25-year-old widow with a 7-month-old baby boy, believe me, no one knew the right thing to do or say around me, including the financial professionals I needed to rely on.  And I’ve heard the same stories countless times since then, from more than 2000 grieving people. Instead, what most professionals do is either ignore the painful reality and stick to business, or pick up what other people say and inadvertently perpetuate the mistakes. 

You can do better than that. You can learn to do the right things and offer genuine comfort and support, no matter what your clients go through. 

One example: 
It is never a good idea to say “I know how you feel” or “I understand just what you’re going through” because you don’t. You are always wrong, and you will alienate your client immediately. What professionals often say instead is “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” That is better, and in the past, I have endorsed that phrase.

However, as I continue to get feedback from research and in my support groups, I find that many grieving people don’t appreciate it. They especially resent it when, as sometimes happens, the words are dripping with drama – “I can’t IMAGINE what this is like for you!” Yet even if you take care not to go over the top when you say it, you risk isolating people. They hear your implication that they are so crazy or outside the realm of normalcy that no one else can even imagine what it’s like. And since no one can imagine it, no one can be there and help. It builds a moat around your grieving client that can’t be crossed.  

Besides, it ultimately is not true. We have very active emotional imaginations. Most of us can indeed imagine something of the pain and loss, the empty chair, the unanswered phone. In fact, imagining it is one key to building empathy, which is core to who we are as human beings and serves a crucial function in binding us together in mutually helpful ways. 

So if you aren’t supposed to say “I know how you feel” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through”, what do you say instead? Consider asking one of the following questions, modified for the situation if necessary:

  • “I’m trying to imagine what you’re going through – would you like to tell me?” 
  • "I think if my child died, my body would actually hurt and I’d wonder whether I could trust the view I’ve always had of life. Is it anything like that, or what is your experience?”
  • “You probably have people telling you that they can’t imagine what you’re going through. If you could enter their imaginations and tell them, what would you want them to know?” 

Never assume you know what someone else is experiencing. Instead, ask open-ended questions and allow a grieving client to tell you, and then let your imagination take you as close as possible. That allows you to respond more effectively and serve your clients in ways others don’t know how to do.

When you know how to walk your clients through the toughest times of life, you build trust, loyalty, and referrals.

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On September 12, 2015
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Imagine a usual day. You grab a coffee and settle in at your desk. You conduct two productive client meetings and go for lunch before the afternoon’s tasks. There’s nothing unusual; it’s just a typical day. Then you answer the phone, you hear the hospital chaplain’s voice …..and nothing is ever the same again. 

Now imagine it’s the 5th anniversary. That fateful day is seared into your consciousness and it will never be just typical. Though others may expect you to be “over it” by now, you will never forget what happened or the person you so loved. 

Perhaps we can learn something from our public memorials of tragic days. Everyone older than 50 remembers exactly where they were when JFK was assassinated, and can still hear Walter Kronkite’s somber voice. It has been 25 years since the Shuttle Challenger exploded, but we remember the name McAuliffe as we mark the day. Ten years after 9-11’s smoke, sirens, and crashing buildings, we pause on the anniversary to show videos, tell stories of heroes, wipe away a tear, and proclaim that we will never forget. Whenever we experience a major loss as a nation, we remember, celebrate, and honor that loss for years to come. 

As these examples illustrate, when you are supporting grieving clients and friends, acknowledge that the goal of grief is not to forget or “put this behind us and get on with life”. Instead, we move on precisely because we remember, because we create an enduring memory to carry with us into a future that is different than anything we could have imagined before. We tell the stories and share appreciation for the privilege of having these people in our lives. We try to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening to someone else. We change in more ways than we thought possible. We live with grief and healing, allowing both to co-exist in the everlasting interplay between loss and gratitude, sorrow and joy. 

In your practice, never assume your clients are “finished” with their grief at a particular point in time. Honor their need to remember and let them know you understand.

Two simple steps you can take: 

  1. Don’t be afraid to say the name of the one who died. Your clients never want to forget, and they hope others don’t either. Too often, people talk about anything and everything except the person who died, avoiding the issue for fear they will open old wounds or “make” the survivor cry. In reality, saying the name assures survivors that someone else remembers and cares, and it opens the door for them to talk about their loved one if they choose. If tears arise, they were there anyway; you simply give permission for the tears to be accepted. Three examples that you can say in person or write in a card: - “It must be difficult to have these meetings without Jim; after all, it’s only been four months. Yet I think we’ve made good progress as we work together to honor his legacy and protect your future.” - “By now you’ve encountered well-meaning people who are afraid to mention Kathy’s name. Though not everyone will be open to it, I hope you still find opportunities to speak her name and tell her story.” - “When I read the newspaper story about the charity golf event, I remembered how Alan used to recruit everyone he knew to play in it. He made such a contribution to the cause.” (Substitute any story or memory that is appropriate and honest.)

  2. Gently acknowledge the anniversaries of a loved one’s death for several years afterwards. Do the same for birthdays and other special events. Call, send a card or note, and perhaps include a “comfort gift”. Examples: Call or leave a voice message that says, “Today is sure to bring a mix of emotions as you mark Helen’s birthday. I just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you.” Send a single flower with a note that says, “Those we love are forever remembered. I’m thinking of you on this 4th anniversary of Anne’s death.” Send a gift certificate with a card that says, “November 18 will never be just another day on your calendar again. Although I cannot take away your loss, perhaps you can at least enjoy a cup of your favorite coffee with this gift card.” When you acknowledge their loss, even years later, they know why they chose you as their financial professional – because you understand their experience in a way few others do.
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