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That Final Walk

08/12/2021

One of my long-running complaints with the financial planning profession is that it has become too academic.  If planners spent less time memorizing IRS Code sections and more time looking into the eyes of their clients, it would be a better world.

Estate planning is the most stark example – full of tax and probate advice but void of the world’s most universal emotion.  There is little end-of-life planning, because planners are as uncomfortable talking about it as the clients are.  The highly-structured course curriculum to become certified simply encourages planners to “help” their clients with end-of-life planning . . . but how and how much?

In the Army, we joked that death is fine but dying sucks!  A healthy perspective is necessary for that “final walk alone” . . . that walk out of consciousness for the last time.  Many poets and songwriters have written about that “final walk alone.”  A few years ago, I visited with a client suffering with terminal leukemia.  He knew of my interest in existentialism and asked for that perspective on dying.  I smiled and recited the song by Peggy Lee in 1969 called “Is That All There Is?”  In other words, you can choose to take it lightly, as you take that final walk alone.  Or not!  It is a choice.  When my client died four days later, I suspect he was chuckling.

That perspective might help some people, while other perspectives help others.  For example, a very intelligent person may try to study and understand the process of dying — from sheer force of habit.  The religious perspective has helped countless people to die at peace.  However, a doctor-friend of mine believes everybody takes that final walk alone, but few are even aware of it, as they are already too sedated.

How is a planner going to help somebody take that final walk?  Just listen!  Fear of that final walk is the world’s most universal emotion.  It is perfectly normal.  Just acknowledge their fear and listen.

After all, people are more than just portfolios . . . and financial planners should be more than just financial plans.

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