How to talk clients through family troubles

November 28, 2011 | Last updated on November 28, 2011
3 min read

Divorce, death of family members, serious health issues and aging parents are tough family situations you need to be prepared to discuss with clients.

Your planning decisions depend on this ability.

Like it or not, the majority of baby boomers are in a stage where they’re regularly dealing with serious life issues. It’s the demographic reality.

It’s tricky territory, though, because there’s a trap. You have to help clients going through these significant changes in a professional way, without taking their problems on as your own. That’s harder than it sounds. It’s tempting to get involved in the situation, or to give unsolicited personal advice. But your clients are likely still processing what’s happening and may not be ready to take advice. And some may not be ready to talk.

Properly approaching family issues with clients takes practice. You’re not paid to be a life coach, but sometimes it falls in your lap. Finding the right words to help clients reveal how these changes affect their financial situations is important in helping you do your job. Some clients, for example, won’t want to acknowledge they can’t afford a divorce. So it falls to you to lay out scenarios and give examples of how each can impact their finances.

family situations

ASK Would going over this one step at a time be helpful? NOT Would you like me to talk to your spouse on your behalf?

ASK Do you need some time to get your head around this before we meet? NOT Can you call me when you have the estate documents ready?

ASK Would it be helpful if I gave you the names of professionals that I recommend to clients in similar situations? NOT Do you have a good divorce lawyer?

These kinds of questions show you’re ready to listen. Clients going through a lot of change won’t see the big deal in changing advisors if they feel tuned out.


Have centres of influuence you can refer clients to, such as divorce and estate lawyers, accountants and therapists. Work with ones who are willing to give you referrals back. Connect with them on a regular basis to keep up-to-date on their service offerings and targeted clients.

You’ll know these relationships are strong enough if you can pick up the phone and ask them a quick question at no charge.