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Leveraging Divorce to Maximize College Financial Aid

Divorce is rarely a positive thing. But when it comes to helping your clients maximize college financial aid for their children, it can be used to their advantage.

There are many complexities associated with clients sending their child off to college. Perhaps the biggest factor that keeps parents up at night is the cost of college. Unfortunately, at $25,000 per year for in-state public institutions to $50,000 a year at private institutions, a four-year education can approximate that of a small starter house. Multiply that by two or three kids, and the cost approximates that of a very nice house. Unfortunately, many students are taking on huge loans without regard to their post-graduate income, and parents are likewise assuming massive amount of PLUS loans and putting their retirement in jeopardy.

Complicating this process is the fact that the net cost students will pay varies significantly between schools. Just as very few people pay the sticker price of their new car, almost nobody pays full price for college. Each college doles out aid in very different ways to reflect their charter. For example, the Ivy League universities give large amounts of need-based aid (but little merit aid), while other schools are more generous with merit-based aid.

Each college accepts one of two financial aid documents as part of the financial aid process. The majority of schools accept the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the CSS Profile is utilized by a number of select elite colleges. Finally, 25 uber-elite schools that comprise the “568 Presidents Group” apply the CSS profile data differently to utilize the Consensus approach. The calculation of Expected Family Contribution (EFC) differs significantly between the three. Of the three approaches, FAFSA is the only methodology that takes into account only the income of the custodial parent.

That’s right. If your client makes the same salary as their spouse and they get divorced, the amount of family income that a FAFSA school attributes to the family is roughly half of that if they were married. Families filing FAFSA forms with only one parent’s income reported will likely obtain a greater amount of needs-based aid.

Families with divorced parents need to leverage their situation to maximize the student aid they receive. These families should do the following:

  1. If your client is divorced, their students should focus on applying to schools that accept the FAFSA. They can still apply to non-FAFSA schools, especially if they might get merit-based aid, but they have a better shot to get needs-based aid at a FAFSA school.
  2. Since the custodial parent is defined as the one with whom the student spends the most time during the year, students should spend at least 183 days each year living with the parent who has lower income. Make sure your client plans for this and keeps a calendar if necessary. This point is especially important in families where there are significant income disparities between the divorced parents. If the custodial parent is considering remarrying, they may want to consider delaying the wedding if the impact on college aid is significant.

College financial planning is stressful and complicated no matter your clients’ situation. Divorce adds an extra layer of stress and complexity. Leverage these differences to your clients’ advantage by planning.

Editor’s note: A version of this blog post originally appeared on the College Funding Solutions blog. You can find it here.

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Robert J. Falcon, CPA/PFS, is a financial adviser with OneSource Retirement Advisors in Malvern, Pa., and the president and founder of College Funding Solutions LLC. A candidate for CFP® Certification, Falcon is a CPA/PFS with more than nine years of public accounting tax experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Villanova University and an MBA from Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.


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Elevating Your Guiding Principles from “What” to “Why”

By now, many of us are familiar with the wonderful work of Simon Sinek—his 2009 TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” has been viewed more than 37 million times. It’s been incredibly heartening to see how Simon’s messages have trickled into even the most unlikely of industries and business models, and just how pervasive the concepts have become. Most notably, the idea that people don’t buy what we do but why we do it has presaged a paradigm shift in the way many businesses and leaders, big or small, approach how they operate, communicate and exist on a cultural level.

Sinek’s model for inspirational leadership has had a powerful effect on a wide range of disciplines, with perhaps the largest short-term impact coming in marketing and communications. Which is, again, markedly positive—the more brands and businesses shift to messaging about why they exist, what they believe in and what they stand for, the better off we will be.

Yet, it’s one thing to understand the concept, and quite another to implement it as part of your practice’s story. Both within and outside the financial planning profession and the financial services industry, there are still many organizations whose primary message is focused on what they do. Even one of the most common formulas for a positioning statement remains “We do X, for Y, so they can Z.” The formula can help you craft a solid positioning statement, but it will likely fail to answer the all-important “Why?” question.

So how can you inject “Why” messaging into your website, marketing materials and communications about your business? Start by crafting (or, if you already have them, taking another look at) the following foundational statements about your practice:

Your Mission Statement

As I review mission statements from the many different organizations out there, I am always struck by how wildly different one statement can be from the next. This may come as no surprise, as a search will show that there is not one accepted and agreed-upon definition of what a mission statement actually is. For example, certain definitions focus more on defining what a company does and how it does it, while others focus on the fundamental goals of an organization in relation to how a business aligns with its stakeholders.

I subscribe to the assessment that your mission statement, because it’s essentially a representation of your practice’s core identity, should focus primarily on why you exist, while a vision statement (described below) focuses more on what you do and how you do it. Take, for example, Amazon’s mission statement:

“To be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

The organization’s mission is not to deliver Prime products to your door in a two-day window. That’s part of their product, or “what” they do. Instead, it’s about becoming the model for exceptional customer service, a higher aspiration. In a similar vein, Starbucks’ mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Like Amazon, the Starbucks statement mentions the “what,” but the products themselves are secondary, and are not identified as the reason the company exists.

The key to an exceptional mission statement is, I think, to ensure that it lines up with your deepest purpose. No matter how useful a product is, it still lives at the level of transaction, and what these organizations are aiming for is transformation.

Your Vision Statement

As you may already see, it can be easy to confuse mission and vision statements, as some organizations use the concepts interchangeably. I like the way Investopedia defines the difference, stating that “a company’s mission is its identity, and the vision is its journey to accomplishing its mission.” A great vision statement defines what a company will look like years down the line, and is both inspirational and aspirational.

One excellent example comes from Southwest: “To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.” While the statement focuses more on the “what” and “how” than a mission statement, it’s also future-focused and aspirational. It also adds a human element (most loved) to show that, while profits matter, the organization places at least an equal value on the customer experience.

Your Values Statement

Values statements are exactly what they sound like—a set of principles defining how an organization and its people will behave. As an example, here is a list of core values from website provider Squarespace:

  • Be your own customer
  • Empower individuals
  • Design is not a luxury
  • Good work takes time
  • Optimize towards ideals
  • Simplify

 

As you can see from the Squarespace website, each value (with the clever exception of Simplify) corresponds with a one to two-sentence description of how the principle applies, and what it means to the organization. It’s a powerful reminder for both internal employees and external stakeholders of what matters to Squarespace, as well a framework for how decisions will be made.

In Summary

Delving into mission, vision and value statements is almost always a useful exercise, and if implemented well, these statements can serve as a valuable tool for recruiting and retaining staff, communicating your value to clients and prospects and in setting yourself and your practice apart in a crowded marketplace.

That said, one final, critical question to ask yourself before you set down the path of creating these statements is, “Am I prepared to completely and fully live these statements in all aspects of my practice, now and in the future?” If your answer is not an emphatic “Yes,” I would caution against creating and sharing these types of statements until you are prepared to stand behind them through thick and thin. People take mission, vision and value statements very seriously, and using them only as a marketing tool with no intention on backing them up with decisions and actions is a recipe for disaster. Put another way, these statements can be aspirational and inspirational, but they must also be rooted in truth.

For this reason, many organizations start the process of crafting these statements by focusing on their internal identity, as opposed to how they will position their organizations to their most important stakeholders. The external messaging (how these statements show up to those outside the organization) is certainly an important component of the process, but is often generated organically by discovering the fundamental truths about why an organization exists, why it (and its people) does what it does and its intended impact and significance.

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Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM (CFP®) professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanW_Martin and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danmartinmarketing.


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6 Video Marketing Stats Every Financial Planner Needs To Know Right Now

Late last year, thousands of the world’s top video marketers came together in California for an event called VidCon. This is where the best of the best reveal what has been working in the world of online video and where the big platforms reveal the numbers behind their business and unveil new features for video creators.

This year did not disappoint. In fact, what was revealed simply shows where the world is. Not where it’s going or where it will be in 3, 5 or 10 years, but right now.

With that in mind, I wanted to share six of the top video marketing stats that should get you in gear to start thinking more like a media company and develop more video for your financial practice.

No. 1: YouTube Now Has 1.5 Billion Logged In Users Every Month

The CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki was on stage at VidCon to reveal that while Facebook is getting a lot of headlines about video, they are still the king of the block. Wojcicki started her keynote by revealing that every single month 1.5 billion people log into YouTube and watch videos.

Here are a few things to note about this stat that means something to you. First, this is only logged in users. That means more people are watching videos that are not logged into the platform. Second, if YouTube were a country, it would now be the largest in the world, edging out China at 1.4 billion people.

Third, and I think most important to financial planners like you is that with 1.5 billion users on YouTube, it means that people young and old, of every different race and language are watching videos on YouTube. It is not a platform strictly for young people with too much time on their hands. Your clients and your potential clients are finding, discovering and watching videos on YouTube. Right now is the time for you to start developing a strategy to start putting videos and episodes on the platform.

No. 2: Logged In Users Spend An Average Of An Hour Per Day Watching Videos On Their Phone

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This stat is incredible. It also shows you where the world is consuming content right now—not on their computers, but on their phones. They are watching while in line at the bank or the grocery store, at lunch, on the subway and on their couch while the TV plays in the background.

What this also points out is the average watch time. One hour. Per day.

Here’s why that’s important (beyond the fact that we all need more and better hobbies):

If you only have one video promoting your financial services on YouTube, prospects can only watch that one video. If you have a back catalog of videos and episodes, users will watch them all.

This is why we develop 13 episodes for clients in  one day. To give them an entire body of work, not just one episode to post online. We want folks to binge watch your episodes. We want them to engage with you and build a virtual relationship with you. That is why you need a strategy to continue creating new video episodes regularly, not just once in a while.

No. 3: 500 Million People Watch At Least One Video On Facebook Every Singe Day

Now we need to talk about the other 500-pound gorilla when it comes to online video—Facebook. Make no mistake about it, Facebook and YouTube are major rivals, going neck and neck to win the attention of everyone on the planet.

The biggest mistake financial planners make when it comes to video is only uploading their video to YouTube and then posting the link to it on their Facebook page. Facebook doesn’t like this. They want you to upload your videos directly to Facebook.

And just like YouTube, you need to publish video content on a regular basis on Facebook. Don’t think that you can post one video, once, and expect to book a bunch of appointments. The top financial planners are posting new video episodes at least weekly.

No. 4: A Third Of All Online Activity Is Spent Watching Video

This might come as a shocker, but it’s likely your employees are watching online video while at work. They (and you) are also watching them nearly all the time when a device is connected to the internet.

If people (like your clients) are spending a third of their time watching video online, shouldn’t you be making content for them to watch? It’s hard to stop consuming video content and to start creating it, but the creators are winning, making money and growing their business.

No. 5: 59 Percent Of Executives Would Rather Watch A Video

I love this stat. All the time I hear from financial planners who say, “But Greg, my client is too busy (or wealthy) to watch video” or “There’s no way my market would sit and watch a webinar or sales video.”

This stat from Google shows that 59 percent of executives, the people with real purchasing and buying power, would rather get the exact same information sent to them via video, rather than text.

It’s one of the reasons I have stopped sending proposals in Microsoft Word and only send them via a personalized video. People want to learn more about brands, products and services via a video that connects with them emotionally rather than in a document that bores them to tears.

What are some ways that you can showcase your message via video instead of text that will get the attention of the prospects you want to write business with?

No. 6: 6 In 10 YouTube Users Would Rather Be Influenced By YouTube Star Than A Movie Star

We wrap things up with this incredible stat that shows a big changing of the guard. Traditionally, we loved to get product recommendations from celebrities. A movie star showing off a new perfume or a celebrity drinking a Coke would influence our purchases.

Today we connect with people that we follow on a more intimate basis, be that a favorite YouTube star, an Instagram influencer you follow or someone who livestreams their life on Facebook Live. These new stars are becoming a big part of our lives and when someone becomes a big part of your life, they can persuade you to make major buying decisions.

This means that the more videos you create and put online, and the more that people watch and engage with them, the more influence you have over their purchasing decisions. It’s one of the reasons we help our clients to create weekly video content. To build a long-term relationship with the audience so we can ultimately impact their future buying decisions.

The more videos and episodes you create, the more opportunities will fall onto your lap. But if you are waiting for things to simply happen to you because you’ve been a financial planner for 20 years, you are going to keep waiting. The top earning financial professionals of today get their message out and build an audience that then wants to invest with them.

My only question now is: what video are you going to create next?

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Greg Rollett is the founder of Ambitious.com, an Emmy® Award winning media production and marketing agency for financial professionals and business owners. He is the host of the reality TV show “Ambitious Adventures,” seen on Entrepreneur.com, and the host the Ambitious Life. Reach him on Facebook or Instagram to say hello and share your videos.

 


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Help Your Clients Fund College with Less Debt

Perhaps some of your clients aren’t able to set aside money in 529 plans to fund their child’s education. In that case, they themselves or their children may have to take on debt to pay for college. The following tips can help clients in this situation take on a minimal amount of debt.

“It may not seem easy to graduate debt-free, but it can be done,” said Stuart Ritter, a financial planner and vice-president of Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price Investment Services in the Money magazine article, “4 Secrets to Graduating from College With No Debt.”

Have them explore if their kids can get a head start. Do your clients’ children have options to enroll in Advanced Placement courses or dual college and high school credit courses? Although college students are considered full-time students at 12 credits, there’s no way a person taking only 12 credits per semester can graduate in four years, unless they have some college credits going into college. Money magazine reported that earning credits at local community colleges then transferring to a four-year institution might be a better financial bet.

Have their kids plan out their courses. Fred Amrein, ChFC®, shared on Investopedia.com that clients should ensure their kids are planning their courses appropriately to be sure they are on track to graduate on time. He suggested mapping out courses at the end of each semester while registering for the following semester.

Ensure kids pick the right major. Amrein wrote that changing majors is a costly proposal. Ensure your clients’ have a thorough discussion with their kids regarding their choice of major and if it’s appropriate for them. Also include in this conversation whether their kid’s major and career choice can adequately cover any student loan debt they might incur.

Explore tax strategies with your clients. Things have changed with the new tax bill, and your clients may have access to more tax benefits than before. It’s up to you to help them figure out whether they can utilize tax strategies to help them pay for their child’s education.

“Examining cost, debt, and potential income are important parts of the college decision-making process,” Amrein wrote on Investopedia.com. “At the end of the day, having your child graduate on time with manageable debt is a great accomplishment.”

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Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.


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Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

When a planner asks me if they are a candidate for coaching, I always find myself saying, “Never wait to succeed!” Unbeknownst to them, what they’re actually telling me is that they’re in a comfort zone and they’re not sure if they are ready to go beyond it.

Unfortunately, those who stay in their comfort zone rarely reach their pinnacle of success. Conversely, those who strive for excellence and never settle for mediocrity, they do what others won’t.

Remember feeling uncomfortable when trying new endeavors in pursuit of your business goals is a temporary situation. You soon realize that what may have seemed awkward initially turns into your new normal. The secret to getting to the next level is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. In order to do that you must first understand the Comfort Zone Model.

Understanding the Psychological States of the Comfort Zone Model

The Comfort Zone Model states that when people are faced with a difficult situation they will overcome and rise to the occasion by learning or growing; thus, lifting out of their comfort zone. However, I believe that many planners are stuck in complacency unless they have a strong enough reason for change. The following are three psychological states of the Comfort Zone Model and how it may pertain to you as a planner.

Level 1: Comfort Zone. The “comfort zone” is described as a psychological state in which things feel familiar and as a result there is a low level of anxiety, stress and feeling of being in control. Planners tend to get to settle in their comfort zone when they have created a book of business and gross production level which is acceptable to the company they work for, themselves and in some cases their peers.

However, change is inevitable. Eventually, the market will go down, clients pass away or transfer to other planners, and in some cases the firm you work for will increase their minimum gross production standards. When any of this happens, many planners are forced out of their comfort zone. Or, they are forced out of the industry.

Level 2: Optimal Performance Zone. Although stress and anxiety can play a large part in why a planner has to step out of their comfort zone, the act of doing these new activities can also create new anxiety and stress. However, if the planner continues focusing on learning and refining new ways of growing and maintaining their business they will soon find that they are in what is referred to as the “optimal performance zone”—a psychological state in which the planner is hitting peak performance.

The secret to staying in this state is to continuously want to want to work on your business while working in your business. When a planner is focused on improving their business they learn various tools, techniques, strategies and solutions that help them work smarter. As a result, they typically start to quickly see positive results.

Level 3: Danger Zone. As I had previously stated, some anxiety and stress can improve a planner’s performance because it propels them towards learning and growth. However, if too much anxiety occurs it can be paralyzing. This is referred to as the danger zone—a psychological state where disbelief lives and all actions cease. Performance therefore declines as anxiety and stress increase.

Take for instance Gail Z., a 25-year veteran who was told on Thanksgiving that if she didn’t achieve the company’s minimum gross production number by the first of the year she would be let go. This immediately put her into the danger zone” and the only thing that got her out of it was having a strategic plan to follow which helped her accomplish what seemed to be an unreachable goal.

Finding Your Psychological Zone

Obviously, it’s important to be aware of what psychological zone you’re in at any given time. If you feel complacent and not motivated you are most likely in your comfort zone. Beware of complacency because too much of it can have an adverse effect when you are faced with a situation like Gail was.

The place you want to find yourself is in a constant state of forward movement. Being willing to be comfortable being uncomfortable is paramount and will no doubt offer you a leg up as it forces you to continually think on your feet and come up with out-of-the-box solutions.

If you are ready to take your business to the next level, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with me by me by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing.

Dan Finley
Daniel C. Finley is the president and co-founder of Advisor Solutions, a business consulting and coaching service dedicated to helping advisers build a better business.

 

 


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To Find Differentiation, Focus on Your AND

I wrote in my last post about how financial planners need to find ways to avoid using challenges as excuses for poor marketing and the importance of starting simple before adding too much complexity to their marketing efforts. In this post, I want to focus on one specific challenge that many financial planners face when it comes to articulating and promoting their value: commoditization.

Commoditization can be defined as the process by which goods that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of attributes (uniqueness or brand) end up becoming indistinguishable from their competition in the eyes of the market or consumers. Every lucrative profession must eventually face the specter of commoditization, as the success of individuals or organizations in an industry prompts a flood of new entrants looking to get in on the action.

And financial planning is far from immune. Even given the contraction in the industry and profession over the past decade, there were still more than 300,000 financial advisers in the U.S., including all channels (as of January 2017). Yes, this number includes all of the different tiers and types of “advisers,” and the case could be made that true financial planners are a cut above the rest. The case could also be made that a good portion of the American consumer public does not grasp that there’s a difference at all, much less what that difference is.

The mantle then falls to financial planners to dramatize that level of differentiation, not only as it pertains to separating themselves from competing planners, but also in helping consumers understand the problems you can help them solve. Yet, if that was easy, we wouldn’t have a commoditization problem in the first place. The process of finding differentiation can require profound soul-searching, and may force you to dig as deeply into the weaknesses in your practice as you delve into your strengths. You may even find that what got you here (your recipe for past success) won’t get you there, and that can be a tough pill to swallow.

That said, I believe it’s a process that’s worth your time, as knowing who you are, who you are not and why your clients should care will serve as the foundation of your marketing for years to come. The following are a few tips to help you get started.

Do you remember the Coke Zero advertisement in which a young man is shown in a variety of different situations asking “and?” when receiving a reward (like an ice cream cone)? (FACT: describing commercials always makes them sound far worse than they actually are, so there’s a link above to watch it). The commercial does an excellent job of visually and verbally illustrating Coke Zero’s tagline of “real Coke taste AND zero calories,” but is also a useful way to think about differentiation.

In other words, what’s your AND? What do you, or your firm, offer that makes you truly different? Many planners and even large financial services organizations are still providing prospective customers with a laundry list of benefits, with a few awards sprinkled in, and calling it “marketing.” These are often lists of the things that every organization or individual does: “creation of a personalized financial plan,” “maximizing client investments” or “minimizing taxes.” If a prospective client was being direct, they would likely respond to these messages by saying, “You had better do those things.”

Essentially, planners are focusing on the baseline, what’s expected, when they should be focused on what sets them apart. As your differentiator must be unique (obviously), I can’t tell you exactly what you will find, but I do believe that, as a true financial planner, the act of planning itself (and why you spend the time to do it) could play a significant role. To most consumers, financial planning is not about investment selection or rate of return—it’s about the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they have done the work to prepare to fund an uncertain future. This makes the financial planner much more than someone with whom they are completing a transaction; the planner becomes one of the few critical trusted confidantes that their client can call upon in a time of need.

Great marketing does not ask prospects to sift through the message to find the benefit or feature that speaks to them. Great marketing shows the prospect that what the organization or individual cares about most is solving their most important problem. Find that problem, articulate your solution, and you will have found your AND.

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Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM (CFP®) professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanW_Martin and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danmartinmarketing.

 


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Facing Hard Truths: Clients Will Help Care for Their Parents

With a person turning age 65 every eight seconds, according to AARP, and 55 percent of Americans having no retirement savings whatsoever, chances are some clients are going to have to take on the emotional, physical, and financial task of caring for an aging parent.

Nobody wants to face this. We don’t want to think of our parents getting older and (shudder) even passing away and our parents probably don’t want to think about it either.

But Americans are living that reality. AARP reports that adult children contribute anywhere from $7,000 to $14,000 to care for parents, and the National Caregiver Alliance reports that 29 percent of Americans are providing care for an ill or disabled adult.

“It’s outrageously expensive,” said Nelda Mays, an Atlanta resident who cares for her 87-year-old father told NPR in a September episode of The Call-In about elder care.

During your clients’ later working years and perhaps a few years into their retirement, they may be caring for aging parents. With that in mind, these could be some helpful tips for clients:

If they’re looking for a facility, Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care in Texas, said that clients should familiarize themselves with their state’s laws, rules, and regulations, in addition to federal laws that oversee the different care options. Lee told NPR listeners that nursing homes have the most protections. He also advised people to visit the facility, chat with the residents, have a meal there, and ensure both the facility and residents are clean and well-kept.

If they’re providing home care to their loved ones, remind them to take care of themselves. Mays told NPR that caregivers need to rest when the person they’re caring for is resting.

Don’t dance around the issue. The sooner your clients talk to their parents about what they want, the better it will be for everybody. They don’t want to wait until their mother or father has a stroke to make rash decisions. It’s an emotional conversation—their parents might not want to face that they’re getting older or that they soon might not be able to live on their own.

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Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.