End-of-Life Planning: The Missing Piece to the Financial Puzzle

Most financial professionals specialize in financial, retirement, insurance, and estate planning. In doing so, they usually utilize a holistic planning process designed to review and optimize all areas of a client’s financial needs.

However, studies reveal that most “successful” financial professionals choose to specialize in a particular niche.  In other words, they focus the majority of their time, energy, and resources on a target market with the goal of establishing themselves as the “go-to” expert for a particular product or service.

Some of the most common niches in our industry are:

  • Wealth and investment management
  • Life, disability, and/or long term care insurance
  • Retirement planning
  • Estate and legacy planning

Your End-of-Life Planning Niche is Here

Question:  “Have you adequately prepared yourself and your family for your eventual death?”  This may be an unpleasant question, but it is one you should be able to answer nonetheless because we will all die one day after all. Death is something we cannot predict, postpone, or avoid.  I once heard someone say, “God promises us eternity, but He never promises us tomorrow.”  

Every financial services professional knows for certain that all their clients are guaranteed to face this extremely difficult situation, either directly or indirectly, at some point in their future. We also know this guaranteed event is accompanied by extremely difficult emotional and financial decisions.

If you think about it, nearly every person we know has either:

  • Personally experienced a death
  • Knows someone who has lost a loved one
  • Knows someone who died at an unexpected age, or in an unexpected way that no one could’ve anticipated.

However, almost nobody we know can answer this question:

“If a death occurred in your family last night … what would you be doing right now?”

Right now, every financial professional has a unique opportunity to serve an exponentially growing niche of individuals and families. Every day, there are more families seeking the professional services and guidance that you can potentially offer. And by doing so, you can serve a niche that has little-to-no competition.  You could become the credible “go-to” professional that so many families are searching for.

The bad news is that our industry has yet to offer the comprehensive training and education needed to become more comfortable, confident, and better equipped to professionally serve “the death conversation.” The good news is that I am fully confident this will change in the coming years.  Soon, financial professionals will open up a world of opportunity as they gain access to the necessary training, tools and resources to help them step out of their comfort zone – and into a new niche to serve more clients.

“The Death Conversation” is a Good Thing

A recent survey from The Washington Post revealed that more than 90% of people believe it is a good idea to have “the death conversation,” and that it is a good idea to document their final plans and preferences in advance.  However, less than 10% have actually had “the death conversation,” much less proactively started making any formalized End-of-Life Plan.

I have personally experienced the loss of a close loved one, and I fully understand why people feel uncomfortable talking about death. In fact, it’s a taboo subject in many cultures where it can be considered offensive and/or bad karma. Thankfully, we live in a country that largely accepts Judeo-Christian values. Our attitudes on the subject are decidedly less intense, and our feelings about “the death conversation” are gradually but continually softening.

Talking about Death is Taking Flight

Mark my words.  In the coming years “the death conversation” will be a standard and routine part of our job and our industry.  In fact, just over the past several years, I have watched death talk grow into a much more common and acceptable topic. Below are a few examples to support this explosive trend:

  • The Social Security Administration is increasingly educating Americans and seniors about pre-planning and pre-funding funeral arrangements.
  • Most long term care facilities require advanced funeral and cemetery arrangements before allowing admission.
  • Death cafés and death dinner parties are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. and other countries.

So when you factor in the aging population of Baby Boomers, the advent of the Internet and the explosion in technology, the trend of talking about death is in the early stages of an exponential growth curve.

Are You a Death Planner?

When you hear the words “death planner,” you probably think of a funeral director. Most funeral directors will readily accept and acknowledge the fact that they are “death planners.”  On the other hand, most financial professionals would cringe at the thought of being referred to as a “death planner.” But like it or not, many financial professionals are just that.

Some of the most common “death planning” products and strategies in the financial services industry are life insurance, long term care, and estate planning.

Life insurance is a product primarily designed to replace income in the event of an unexpected death. Long term care insurance is a product primarily designed to help fund a person’s medical and non-medical needs for an extended period of time prior to death.  Estate Planning is a strategy primarily designed to provide the proper and timely distribution of personal and/or family wealth upon death.

When a financial services professional sells a term, whole life, or long term care insurance policy – or an estate attorney creates a traditional will or living trust – they are acting as “death planners.”  In other words, the value offered from their professional products and services is accomplished by putting a plan in place for death. The primary objective of these “death plans” is to minimize the significant emotional and financial damages and losses associated with death.

It’s Only Too Soon … Until It’s Too Late

As you know by now, I firmly believe that the financial services industry needs to help us become trained, educated, and well-versed in order to assist our clients regarding the following four facts:

1. Death is a guaranteed event which we cannot predict, avoid, or postpone.

2. When a death occurs, there are approximately 150 difficult decisions that need to be made within a 24-to-48 hour period.

3. Dying is expensive, and these costs will only grow over time. The average cost of a traditional funeral today is $15,000 to $20,000.

4. When faced with planning a funeral, most families are largely unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and unprepared.  Clearly, this is not a good scenario for someone to make important emotional and financial decisions.

I cannot overstress how important it is for every financial professional to begin to accept death and embrace “the death conversation.”

It is time for change in our industry, and my prayer is that I help make a small contribution towards something that is so large and important.

I leave you with this thought. The most common statement I hear when it comes to End-of-Life Planning is, “I don’t need to do this now.  It’s too soon.”  Well, I can assure you from my own personal experience and years of extensive work in the death care industry, it’s only too soon until it’s too late.