Many changes in life are unpredictable. From the death of a loved one to a divorce, your clients will face plenty of unexpected circumstances throughout their lives. Fortunately, they have you to turn to.
Knowing what questions to ask in a client meeting can help cultivate a strong rapport with your clients. It can also help you understand their financial goals and help your client better articulate those goals. Throughout the course of your client relationship, most of your clients will face at least one of the circumstances below. Here is a life events checklist that may help during your next meeting.
Marriage is one of the biggest life events your client may experience and, fortunately, one that's usually predictable. Whether it's your client's first marriage or the second or third, marriage will absolutely introduce changes to their financial situation that can easily become a squabble if they're not thinking about it amid the hubbub of wedding planning. Here are a few questions you may want to ask them:
- Does their partner have existing credit card debt? Determining how and when it will be paid off can help ensure that a solid plan is in place for the future.
- Has your client discussed their personal financial goals with their partner? Doing so early can help minimize money problems down the road.
- Have they created a budget for how they will manage their spending? Make sure your client is aware of their partner's spending habits.
- Marriage has tax implications your client should be aware of, as well. In addition to notifying employers, the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service of any name changes, decisions may need to be made about whether a couple will file jointly and if they should consider itemized deductions. More information about life events and taxes can be found on the IRS website.
- Has your client discussed life insurance with their new partner? It's time to make sure beneficiaries are updated and that coverage accounts for the needs of a married couple and any children they already have in the event one partner passes away.
Owning a home is often one of the biggest financial investments your client can make, and it will absolutely affect their long-term plan.
- If they haven't purchased yet but are thinking about it, have they considered closing costs and factored in the full cost of homeownership, such as property taxes and home insurance?
- Can you run the numbers to help them figure out a down payment that they can afford?
- If they already bought their home, have they amended their budget to account for new expenses, and are they aware of everything they can deduct come tax time?
- Also, how long are they thinking of staying in their current residence, and are they thinking of buying a second home?
- Has your client revisited their life insurance policies in light of their recent home purchase? Life insurance can help families stay in their homes after loss of income due to an unexpected death.
Nothing is more exciting than news of a new baby! After you've congratulated your clients, help alleviate some of the planning stress by asking the right questions. The earlier your client can start saving the better chance they stand to minimize any financial bumps.
- Has your client created a budget and started putting money away for child care and additional health care costs?
- Have they created a will or adjusted HSA contributions?
- Are they thinking about saving for college?
- Life insurance needs change when a client adds to their family. Be sure to remind them to revisit their current coverage or consider purchasing a life insurance policy if they don't already have one.
If your client has a new job, they may be making more money or enjoying new benefits. It may be a good time to restructure their budget or savings goals.
- Have they rolled over their old 401(k) into an IRA? Do they need help choosing a health care plan?
- You may want to take the opportunity to ask your client about their career and what changes they're expecting to occur in the future. Do they plan on staying with their current company for a long time, for instance? Or is there a chance they might go back to school or open their own business?
- If your client only has employer-provided life insurance, now may be a good time for them to consider purchasing a policy of their own.
If there's one thing that's unpredictable, it's your client's health. Not everyone feels comfortable talking about their health, which is why it's a good idea to remind your client that major life events (such as being diagnosed with cancer) have enormous financial repercussions. Your client may be experiencing an interruption in income or want to put more away in savings, especially given that out-of-pocket health care costs are rising.
- Have they designated beneficiaries, formalized a will or re-evaluated their insurance?
- Consider asking your client if there are any health issues that run in the family or if they've had any unanticipated health care expenses lately.
Stepping in to help your client navigate a divorce — before, during and after — can be crucial to building trust, given how stressful divorce is.
- Ask your client if you can help with the dividing of assets or with other major financial decisions, such as whether to sell a home.
- Ask your client about their most pressing financial concerns. Are there investment reports or financial plans you can prepare?
If your client has inherited money, or plans to, take this opportunity to check in about their financial objectives and what they want to accomplish in the next five or 10 years.
- Is there a way they can put the inheritance to work so that they can achieve their goals, whether that's paying off debt or tucking more away in savings?
- Have they thought about the tax implications and how best to use their inheritance?
In your conversations with your clients about retirement, be sure to ask them how they see themselves spending their days. You'll learn plenty about your client's interests and priorities and build a stronger rapport.
- Do they want to travel? Or just spend time with family?
- When is the age they would like to retire? If there's anything that could stand in the way of your client reaching retirement at their desired age, be sure to discuss it. (They might be underestimating the cost of health care or paying for a college education for their children.)
- Make sure clients understand how their needs will change with each phase of retirement.
- Also consider sharing this Annual Retirement Review checklist with your clients who are of retirement age or are considering retirement.
Death of a spouse or loved one
Your client will be depending on you to help when a spouse or another close family member dies, such as an aging parent. The grieving process can hinder a person's ability to think clearly, and you can help your client along the way as they make important decisions.
- Encourage your clients to be proactive. At your next client meeting, encourage clients to consider the health of loved ones and how illnesses or death may impact their financial picture.
- There may be a tough conversation that your client needs to have with a family member or spouse. Ask how can you help them through it.
- If a client's parent, spouse or other loved one dies, do what you can to help make it easier to prepare for a funeral, gather important documents and manage immediate financial needs. Consider providing a checklist to clients for what to do after a loved one passes away.
- The death of a loved one may impact your client's own estate plans, especially if the deceased was designated as a beneficiary in your client's will, trust or life insurance policy.
Your clients may need a little encouragement to be proactive when it comes to major life changes, both the ones that are easy to plan for and those that happen unexpectedly. Checking in with your client about potential life events they might be facing is essential. It will help your clients feel more prepared for the future and allow you to build a strong relationship that hopefully lasts for years to come.