Karen Lee
Karen Lee
That Difficult Client Conversation

Talking with clients about planning for the ultimate life transition can be difficult, but clients — and their families — will be deeply appreciative.

December 17, 2009
by Karen Lee, CFP/ChFC

In my last column, I revealed how important it is for financial advisors to go beyond the numbers with clients in order to ensure that all your client’s “money baggage” is out in the open. It’s the best way to help them achieve their financial objectives. From conversations I’ve had with scores of other advisors, I know that some of my colleagues have a hard time talking about these kinds of things with clients. I urge them to push past their discomfort, because this is the stuff of financial planning excellence. The best scenario planning in the world won’t mean much, if your clients blow the plan because they couldn’t recognize how their behavior resulted in self-sabotage.

While much of the time financial advisors spend with clients is focused on reviewing their plans and ensuring that they are on track to meet their financial objectives, there are other conversations that can be of tremendous value to the client. One of these topics is estate planning. As advisors, we want to be sure that our clients have the pieces in place to ensure that their financial legacy is transferred according to their wishes. We make recommendations about having a will, setting up trusts where appropriate, identifying beneficiaries, etc. All of that is pretty straightforward — the technical details of the estate.

But what about the client’s own preparation? Many advisors avoid this conversation because they are uncomfortable asking clients to think about the inevitable. The conversation about getting organized and thinking about your clients’ personal legacy is a huge opportunity for you to deepen your relationship with your clients.

Getting Started

If this topic is one you have avoided, here are some tips to help you get started.

  • Ask questions about organization. Do you keep important papers in a file drawer? Where is your car title? Your passport? Do you have a safety-deposit box? Where is your life-insurance policy? If you were out of town and you needed to have a family member look for something in your home, would you be able to direct them where to find it?
  • These questions will get people thinking about all of the details of their life that they keep track of. Maybe they are systematic; maybe they’ve got a favorite drawer where they put everything.
  • Ask about their address book. Do you keep a list of your advisors — CPA, financial planner, lawyer, doctor? Do you have a list of your regular service providers, like the cleaning person, lawn service, plumber, vet and others?
  • Ask them about their important possessions. If you’ve been working with a client for a while, you probably have some idea of things that are important to them. Maybe they are collectors of art, antiques or silver candy dishes. Have they thought about which family members share their passion or would appreciate having part or all of their collection?
  • Find out what they do with memorabilia. Do they keep scrapbooks of old family photographs? What do they do with the DVDs of the grandkids piano recitals?

These details are important and starting a conversation will get clients engaged in realizing how much there is to pass on, and it would be nice to pass it on in a way that was orderly and accessible.

Organizational Tools

There are an ever-increasing number of products and services available to help people think about and plan for transferring their legacy. As we round the corner into 2010, here are some resources you can explore. You might even think about presenting one or another of them as gifts to clients.

Executor’s Resource has created an exhaustive, high quality, easy-to-use system that allows people to organize their lives online. Their EstateLogicâ product is a "virtual safe deposit vault" that can help you and your clients organize and archive critical information in the right way, across four categories:

  • Estate Documents — Wills, powers of attorney, trusts, medical directives, birth certificates, marriage licenses and other important papers;
  • Financial Catalog — Financial assets, liabilities, properties, collectibles, contracts, preferences on planned giving, etc.
  • Family Legacy — Stories, pictures, videos, heirlooms, ancestry information, key family contact information, and other important aspects about your heritage;
  • My Instructions — Preferences for continued dependent care, pet care, funeral instructions, along with personal values, and messages to be passed on to the family

They offer a host of materials for advisors to use to introduce the concept to their clients. For your A-level clients, you could gift them a subscription and help them start the process of uploading their information.

  • Plan Your Legacy introduced Breadcrumbs — a legacy planning program that is facilitated by the advisor. The company offers membership to advisors, which gives them access to training and tools to help clients create a legacy plan that documents their life lessons, family values, precious memories, and important details such as final wishes, personal and medical history, and financial and insurance information. The legacy plan also includes practical, everyday details — computer passwords, pet care instructions, and an address book of important contacts.
  • Life Bio is an online tool to help your clients capture one of their most important assets — their life story. If your clients already have a document vault or feel they can manage the challenge of organizing all of their papers and documents some other way (in short, they only need to capture their life story, not all their other important papers and assets), LifeBio.com might be the right solution. They offer writing assistance and audio recordings if the storyteller is better with verbal articulation than computer or essay skills. Beth Sanders, creator of LifeBio.com, has been guiding groups of seniors through the Life Bio process for years. Now she is offering a special program to help advisors bring Life Bio tools and workshops to their clients. Having a LifeBio “client appreciation event” could create a lasting memory (in more ways than one!) and really cement relationships.
  • Senior Move Managers is a service that helps older people pack and go through their stuff. If your clients (or their parents) need help digitizing and organizing their important papers, Senior Move Managers can help — especially during times of transition when the need to sort through and decide what to keep and what to discard or give away becomes most apparent. Many of the NASMM members are professional organizers, so their talents might be well appreciated by clients and family members of all ages.


These are just a few examples of companies and products focused on helping people manage their documents and their legacies in a variety of ways. Speaking with your clients about these issues can help you provide value above and beyond the particular services that you offer. It’s another way to enhance the relationship with clients and to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

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Karen J. Lee, CFP, ChFC, MSFS, AEP, Registered Representative. Advisory Services offered through Securities America Advisors, Inc. Lee is a financial planner in Atlanta and author of the forthcoming book, It's Just Money — So Why Does It Cause So Many Problems. Reach Lee through her Web site. Karen Lee & Associates, LLC, Integrated Financial Group, Inc., and the Securities America companies are unaffiliated. Karen Lee & Associates, LLC is a member firm of Integrated Financial Group, Inc, a consortium of independent financial consultants.