Make the death planning conversation easier with this formulaArticle added by Christopher P. Hill on October 24, 2013
Christopher P. Hill, RFC

Christopher P. Hill

Vienna, VA

Joined: January 08, 2010

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Please don’t miss this opportunity to help your clients and their loved ones, while simultaneously adding significant value to your financial services practice.

Although I have written lots of articles about the features and benefits of end-of-life planning, this article is focused on helping financial professionals learn how to have the difficult conversation about death planning.

You may have heard that saying: "By failing to plan, you are planning to fail." However, in our industry there are volumes of statistics and studies that prove most people:
  • do not own life insurance — or do not own enough
  • do not own disability insurance — or do not own enough
  • do not own long-term care insurance — or do not like the thought of using it
  • have not taken the time to create a last will or living trust — or have not updated these documents for a long time
Therefore, it is only logical to conclude that most people do not like to talk about death and dying either. However, these aforementioned inefficiencies are the reasons many of us can enjoy a successful career in this great industry and love what we do every day.

The major milestones in life

When it comes to the major milestones in life, death and funerals are definitely ones that everyone on Earth must journey to and through at some point in our lives. Clearly we all wish these difficult life events will happen later versus sooner, but no one is promised a tomorrow.

Fact: Most financial professionals are hesitant to integrate preplanned funeral arrangements as a standard and routine part of their practice. For many people, this subject is considered to be taboo. As a result, far too many of our well-intentioned clients die unprepared. This ultimately and regrettably leaves their loved ones with a painful emotional and financial burden.

I can understand why the funeral planning conversation is largely overlooked and ignored. In fact, had I not personally experienced the process of losing a dear loved one, I too would probably shy away from talking about end of life planning. However, my loss has become my inspiration, and I am on a mission to help others minimize or avoid the pain and suffering that invariably accompany one of life’s most difficult challenges.
Not having the conversation

More than 70 percent of Americans do not leave behind any formalized estate plan such as a last will or living trust. Sadly, more than 85 percent of Americans do not leave behind any final arrangement plans or preferences.

If you think about our clients' financial lives, they are filled with many important milestones like graduations, marriages, childbirths and retirements. These are universally common moments that bring families together to celebrate significant accomplishments, which, of course, also require careful planning and financial commitment.

So where do funerals fit on this list of life’s major milestones? Consider these important facts:

1. The average family has over 150 detailed questions that need to be answered, all within a period of 48 hours after losing a loved one. When individuals and families are forced to make important and emotional decisions with very little time and a heavy heart, this can only add insult to injury. In addition to the time constraints and emotional loss, people can also lose their ability to be educated and empowered with regards to their various options, key details and best prices.

2. The average cost of a funeral today is approximately $10,000 (and only going higher over time). So just like all of life’s major financial and retirement planning milestones, planning a funeral also requires a detailed, deliberate, logistical and proactive approach.

3. Over 80 percent of families believe that prearranging a funeral makes sense. According to a recent nationwide survey conducted by the Wirthlin Group, more than 8 out of 10 people “believe that funeral prearrangement is a good idea.” Put another way, for every 10 people a financial professional is willing to have the conversation with, more than eight of them agree it is a sensible discussion and are open-minded to learning how to create such a plan.

See also: Death is scary (but we need to get over it)
Using the N.E.A.D.S. analysis to have the conversation

Below is a simple, easy-to-understand and comfortable dialogue you can have with your clients to furnish the death planning conversation:

Now: “With regards to your funeral or cemetery arrangements, can you please share with me what current plans you have now?"

Experience: “Can you tell me what your experience has been with regards to making funeral or cemetery arrangements? Have you ever been required to make these types of arrangements yourself? Or have you ever been a part of making these arrangements?”

Alter: “Based on your past experience, what would you alter or change going forward?”

Ddecision making: "When a death occurs, who will be involved in the decision-making process? Will it be your spouse? Your children? Your family?"

Solution: “Has anyone ever talked to you about a solution? In other words, are you aware that you can prearrange your funeral or cemetery plans and preferences?”

Weddings versus funerals

To help put this into perspective, let’s compare weddings and funerals. Getting married is usually a big life event, right? In fact, it is such a big life event that most people spend over a year planning the various options, details and pricing of their wedding day ceremony. Now, can you imagine being forced to make all of these important wedding choices within a 48 hour period? The fact of the matter is both weddings and funerals require careful consideration of many similar details, including invitations, guests, location, flowers, food, memorabilia, clothing, travel, religion — and of course, spending the least but most appropriate amount of money.

A wedding is a very important life-event that should almost never be planned on the fly. Likewise, planning your funeral should be the treated the same way.

I firmly believe that 90 percent of our job is protecting against emotionally and financially devastating circumstances. Clearly the loss of a loved one is accompanied by a large number of emotional and financial decisions. If you were to ask most people who have been involved with planning a funeral, they will tell you that it is an extremely challenging, overwhelming and often times devastating experience.

Have you planned ahead?

Here are a couple questions I would like to ask each financial professional who has taken the time to read this article:
  • Do you believe prearranging your own funeral is a good idea?
  • If so, have you taken steps to plan ahead for your loved ones?
Preplanning a funeral is a missing component in many people's list of milestones, a missing piece to the financial and retirement planning puzzle, and also a missed opportunity for most financial professionals. Please don’t miss this opportunity to help your clients and their loved ones, while at the same time add significant value to your financial services practice.

See also:
Help your clients prepare for the death of a spouse
Estate planning primer, Pt. 1: Minimizing death taxes
New FDIC insurance rules for living trust bank accounts
The four pillars of legacy planning
Final expense planning for veterans
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