FA Center: Financial advisers know how to respond to people’s money worries, but what about health fears?

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When clients fret about a future derailed by a major illness, financial advisers can only do so much. Empathetic listening sets the stage for meaningful conversation. Asking supportive questions signals interest and an eagerness to learn more. Resisting the urge to interrupt and dish out unsolicited advice builds trust.

At their best, advisers will do more than serve as sounding boards. They anticipate and address clients’ fears about grim medical diagnoses. And they offer creative solutions to practical problems — choosing the right time and place to shift from a listening posture to a constructive partner.

“To comfort a client, it depends on the person,” said Jennifer Grant, a Dallas-based certified financial planner. “Some want practical help. Others just want to talk through it. They may fear being a burden to their children or losing a part of themselves” to dementia.

Grant prefers not to tell clients what they should or should not do to allay their health concerns. Instead, she shares stories of how others have coped. “I tell them how other people have faced this challenge,” she said. “Hearing their stories helps a client ‘try on’ different options without committing to them.”

Helping clients prepare for worst-case scenarios can lessen their fears. Armed with a sound strategy, they’re more likely to gain peace of mind even if their health declines.

Catalina Franco-Cicero, a certified financial planner in Plantation, Fla., provides resources to clients who express fear of cognitive impairment as they age. Examples include samples of letters that clients can use to grant permission in advance for family members to take away the car keys or orchestrate a move into an assisted-living facility under certain conditions.

“The client just slaps their name on the letter and sends it out to their family,” she said. “The family then gives the letter back to the client later if necessary. Giving people the opportunity to take control now helps them plan for the future.”

One of the sample letters begins, “Dear Me, You are getting this letter that you wrote to yourself a few years ago because someone who loves you wants you to know that it’s time to give up driving. You didn’t want to be that person who is endangering other people and doesn’t recognize it.”

“Clients appreciate that we are thinking ahead in case of an emergency, which makes them less fearful,” Franco-Cicero said.

Well-intentioned advisers might figure that educating anxious clients about the possibility of cognitive decline serves a valuable purpose. But clients may not welcome the message.

“Clients tend to not think rationally about this issue, but rather emotionally,” said Gage Paul, a certified financial planner in Hudson, Ohio. “We’ve found using data and statistics are not very useful when approaching this subject.”

Instead, Paul encourages clients to name a trusted contact — often a spouse, partner or other loved one — who can be notified in case of an emergency. Then he introduces himself to the designated contact so that they have a chance to connect before a crisis unfolds. Said Paul: “We frame the establishment of a trusted contact relationship as an insurance policy that the client will hopefully never have to use.”

More: Does your hospital have an emergency room designed for seniors?

Plus: GMO warns of a ‘lost decade’ for 60/40 portfolios and sees echoes of 1999

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