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Don't sidestep end-of-life issues with clients

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CHICAGO — It's uncomfortable to think about. Certainly, no one wants to talk about it. And even reading about the topic brings up morbid thoughts. Yet too many clients and their advisers don't discuss end-of-life issues .

"Think about the things people do when they are expecting a baby. They start preparing a baby room, asking in-laws to come and stay with the baby. Considerations for the end of life are similar, and, unlike childbirth, [dying] is something that everyone does," says Randi Belisomo, president of Life Matters Media, who was speaking at the Women Advisers Forum.

Planners, Belisomo says, can fill in this conversation gap and save clients from needless trouble and heartache.

"I've personally experienced the meaningful impact that an adviser can have on someone's life," says Celeste Gallati, who is on the board of directors of Life Matters, a firm providing services for persons involved in end-of-life decision-making.

Gallati says that her husband was diagnosed with brain cancer two years after their marriage. Her adviser asked them critically important questions about his wishes and their plans, which she says reduced the stresses she faced when he died.

"Because of those conversations, I was blessed to know that we made the decisions that he would have wanted me to make," she says.

Among their chief concerns: being a burden on their families, according to a UBS survey.
November 16

It's important to have the conversations while people are healthy, not when they are already sick because they'll be better able to identify what it means to be living well.

And there are ways to get even reticent clients thinking about the topic.

"Frame it as a gift to their loved ones," Belisomo suggests.

Ask questions like these, she suggests: "What gives you comfort? What gives your life meaning? Is it church? If so, should I get the minister to come to your house or should I read the psalms to you?"

Having the discussion with a client may clarify matters that they haven't thought of or think they understand, but don't.

Take use of a power of attorney. Mary Mulcahy, a physician and co-founder of Life Matters Media, says it's important that the designated person be capable of acting on the client's wishes, not on their own, and also be accessible.

"It has to be someone who knows that they have to answer their phone," she says.

Of course, advisers may be as reluctant to discuss such emotionally heavy topics as their clients. But doing so may prove to be immeasurably helpful. And, the three experts say, showing you care really makes a difference.

Belisomo says that after her husband Carlos died, his wake was attended by a number of people, including their dentist.

"I had never seen her without her mask on," Belisomo says.

The dentist still has her business. Her former adviser doesn't.

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