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Rhonda Latreille remembers the funeral.

“It was Saskatchewan. November, so there was sleet and ice. They were having an interment at the gravesite,” she recalls. The ground was frozen, so this was the ceremony; come spring they’d bury the ashes.

Her childless aunt had died from Alzheimer’s. Final arrangements fell to Latreille, CEO of Age-Friendly Business in Vancouver, which offers the Certified Professional Consultant on Aging designation to advisors and other business owners.

Trouble was, her aunt never told her what she wanted. “I asked everybody,” Latreille says. “They said, ‘Gosh, she wasn’t even lucid the last ten years; I don’t know.’ ” One family member suggested cremation, with the urn buried between her parents. So that’s what Latreille arranged.

As the family stood grieving and shivering in the cold, “A distant cousin came up and said, ‘She wanted to be buried.’ You don’t want anyone to feel what I felt in that moment.”

**

As our population ages, baby boomers—your clients—will be deciding on final steps for their parents, and soon enough for themselves.

They’ve entrusted you to plan their lives. Part of that duty is to prepare for their deaths, even if that seems a long way off.

“I’ve shared all the financial parts of my life,” says Latreille. “It isn’t a leap to feel my advisor’s office is an appropriate place to discuss the next stage.”

Cultural taboos make it easy to ignore these issues. And medical advances are making boomers feel invincible.

But living longer means clients risk incapacitating illnesses that can render them unable to express their wishes. So you need to have conversations about death early and revisit them periodically to help avoid a situation like Latreille’s.

End-of-life planning is “a natural progression from talking about what will happen with financial assets,” says Bruce Cumming, president of Cumming and Cumming Wealth Management in Oakville, Ont. “We have to lead families through this. That’s our job.”

Advisors have to confront their own feelings about death before they can comfortably help clients.

“I was chided by my best friend because I wanted to talk about [end-of-life planning],” says Cumming. “His wife was terminally ill, and they didn’t want to talk about it, because they were convinced she was going to beat it.”

Planning for her death would have saved the family unnecessary expenses and hassle. “If they had retitled the property into his name prior to her death, she could have just signed off,” says Cumming. They didn’t, so “we had to get affidavits. It became much more complicated than it needed to be.”

At minimum, it takes 18 months to close a simple estate. And if people don’t plan ahead, it draws out the process—which can impede healing.

For that reason, Kat Downey, a funeral director and owner of Legacy Matters in Mississauga, Ont., says it’s worth the trouble to educate clients.

“If people plan for [this] eventuality, there’s a huge sense of relief,” she says. Unfortunately, though, most people are still leaving the conversation too late.

Discuss wishes early

If you consider yourself a life planner, ensure clients don’t neglect their deaths.

One Toronto-based advisor makes death planning a mandatory part of the initial client meeting. Since clients must bring financial documents, he takes the opportunity to create a just-in-case file of the information their loved ones will need when they die.

This matter-of-fact approach, he says, makes it a natural—and less scary—part of the process.

Paul Lermitte, a Vancouver-based family business advisor with Assante, broaches end-of-life topics on one of five occasions:

  • when a client turns 65
  • when a client’s children are in their 40s
  • when a client’s parent dies
  • when a client is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness
  • when a client’s spouse dies

If your client is at risk of an early death, start earlier.