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Why Advisors Must Consider Older Clients’ Health Issues


Your clients are getting ready for retirement.

You’ve done the calculations, balanced the portfolio and advised them of what income to expect. You’ve discussed how much spending is ok. You used your program and your analysis was thorough. You’ve done your job, right?

Not exactly. There is probably no algorithm nor program that will calculate your client’s individual profile of health risks that will likely lead to the expense of long term care. That can be a whopper. Maybe you’ve suggested long term care insurance. Most people don’t choose to buy it. For those who do, the benefits are limited and the “elimination period” (deductible) is thousands of dollars. There go your careful calculations. At least 90% of folks don’t have that coverage. Now what?

But how can you predict what’s going to happen to anyone’s health in retirement, you ask. You can’t be precise, but you surely can make some rational observations and give advice accordingly. Those observations consist of two parts: what you can see with your own eyes and what you can glean by asking a few basic questions. If you think asking any client about their health conditions is too nosy or not your job, consider that if the client needs long term care and runs out of money because of it, they’re not going to think much of you. And the cost can wipe out their security.

Asking about health issues is not nosy at all. Rather, it’s what any smart advisor planning for longevity must do. Let’s not keep pretending that everyone stays the same physically and mentally from the start of retirement to end of life. Our bodies go through wear and tear and things break down. Cognitive decline affects at least a third of people who reach the age of 85. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease keeps climbing after that. Now, what was that life expectancy you were using in your calculation? Was it age 99?

Related: Advisors: Beware of Your Clients Risks as They Age and Live Alone

Let’s start with what you can see in your client with your own eyes. (If they’re not in front of you, perhaps Skype is an option). Is your client obese, as about 40% of the U.S. population is? This leads to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, among other diseases and conditions. The medical care people receive in many cases will save them from dying but they then live with disabilities. And yes, they will be very likely to need expensive long term care. Neither health insurance nor Medicare will cover long term care. Such help as a part time caregiver at home is how most folks start out with long term care. Your client pays out of pocket most of the time. Did you calculate how much it costs as well as how long they will likely need it? If they have multiple medical conditions, and have started long term care, they’ll probably continue to need some form of it for all their remaining years.

Find out what you may not know from simply observing your client’s appearance by asking questions. You can make your own list or get a health care provider to help you with a few targeted questions. You will need to educate your client as to the reason why you need this information. It’s to help them plan for how much to save in their retirement years.

Here are some examples of basic questions that can help you predict the need for possible long term care:

  1. How’s your health these days? Has a doctor told you that you have any long term conditions?
  2. Are you taking medications? What are they for?
  3. Do you smoke?
  4. Are you concerned at all about any health issues you have at this time?
  5. Do you recall your parents’ ages when they died?

Your aging clients will not be eager to talk about the potential need for long term care. When you told them about what to expect for “out of pocket medical costs in retirement”, you did not give them a figure that included long term care. Long term care is not “medical” according to Medicare. Rather, it is called “custodial care”. The client probably will not bring it up, so you must do this.

Related: 3 Things Every Advisor Must Do With Cognitively Impaired Clients

When you have done your observations and gotten answers to your health-risk related questions at least there is a place to start a meaningful conversation. You can give them figures as to the cost of typical kinds of care, such as a non-medical home care worker. We at recommend starting your projections at age 80 as to when a person might need physical help. Many of us know someone who did require help with at least some part of his or her life at that age. Then you can talk about how any condition your client identifies for you, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. as shortening normal life expectancy and increasing the risk for needing help. If your client already has difficulty with some normal daily activity such as walking or bathing, they are definitely at high risk for needing paid help sooner than a person without these problems.

Clients may be completely unaware of such things as the hourly cost of a home care worker, what assisted living costs each month and what home modifications cost if they are able to remain in their own home. You can find a thorough discussion of these and many other parts of long term care in our book, Hidden Truths About Retirement & Long Term Care, written specifically for financial advisors like you.

Every conscientious advisor needs to wake up to the reality that your retirement income calculator omits the reality check of health problems. We’re not talking about nursing homes, but every other kind of care and help most people will need as they age. If you do want to help clients who are reaching retirement age to plan realistically, include the health risks you can see or learn about by asking.

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