On FAs Working with Terminal Clients

Unique Challenges Financial Planners Face when Advising Dying Clients

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBBS DPM MBA MEd CMP™



We doctors are comfortable – or at least familiar – in dealing with death; financial advisors and planners are not!

Although many financial planners attend conferences to keep current on sophisticated planning techniques, most are not emotionally equipped to service terminally-ill clients. Others claim that there’s intensity and an intimacy that comes with working with dying clients that can be deeply rewarding. Such clients are usually grateful for having their affairs put in order before death. The few FAs in the industry that are both physicians and advisors concur.

Myriad of Issues

The many issues that need to be addressed in these situations include:

1. How the client wants to spend their final months, what it will cost, and what impact it may have on the estate;

2. Whether to spend money [health insurance navigation] on expensive and also experimental medical treatments;

3. If there is an existing life insurance policy; the pros and cons of accelerated benefits or viatical settlements;

4. Spending down or gifting assets to reduce estate taxes;

5. How long to keep working;

6. Taking important actions while still competent to do so;

7. Deciding whether to transfer assets to the dying client (one year survival) in order to get a step-up in basis at death;

8. Helping clients decide what type of funeral or final arrangements are preferred;

9. Working with the surviving spouse to restructure final financial affairs.


Financial rules of thumb are often reversed in these situations. Instead of maximizing gains, the goal is to minimize losses. Macro-planning gives way to micro-planning and crisis management. Surviving spouses may be torn between wanting to pay for treatments to save his or her spouse and to protect the funds available in the event of the spouse’s death.


Emotional turmoil does not necessarily end with the client’s death. As the financial advisor, you may take long, tearful phone calls from a surviving spouse whose grief and anxiety has been transformed into fears about their finances. Sometimes their fear can result in irrational anger, which they may take out on you. This type of work is not for the weak-spirited.

Note: “Final Plans,” Anita J. Slomski, Dow Jones Investment Advisor, March 1997, pp. 76–82, Dow Jones Financial Publishing Corp.


And so, your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. As a FA, do you work with the terminally ill? Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com and http://www.springerpub.com/Search/marcinko

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