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FA Center: Our ‘golden years’ are about saving enough money — but having choice, autonomy and agency matter even more


If you’re a retiree or pre-retiree, your financial adviser might be acting as an amateur gerontologist with you. That’s because some advisers also see themselves as life coaches, dispensing advice to older clients about how to boost longevity and enjoy a healthier, more vibrant retirement.

“Advisers want their clients to have choice, power and agency in their older years,” said Regina Koepp, a Vermont-based clinical geropsychologist. “So they might want to share gold-standard information on how to age successfully.”

For example, Koepp cites the Global Council on Brain Health as a good resource for lifestyle tips to improve brain function as we age. Advisers can guide clients to the Council’s informative content.

For clients intent on living to a ripe old age, advisers can link them to longevity research or summarize the latest findings in their client newsletter.

Anthony Cirillo, an aging and caregiving expert in Huntersville, N.C., highlights the lessons from the world’s so-called blue zones — places where residents tend to live longer, healthier lives. Two key takeaways from these regions: Older people with a purpose or mission in life — and who stay physically and mentally active — are ideally suited to savor more of their golden years. “An adviser can steer clients to get involved in a charity or volunteer work that gives their life a greater purpose,” Cirillo said.

While it’s inappropriate to point out that a client should lose weight or hit the gym, there are subtle ways advisers can spur clients into action. For instance, an adviser can set an example by telling clients about a personal daily fitness routine — and invite them to join. “You don’t want to preach,” Cirillo cautioned. “I’m 65, and I can tell you we don’t like being lectured to.”

He adds that another element of healthy aging involves injecting good-natured humor into life. At least one good belly laugh per day is a worthy goal. An adviser might start a movie club and invite clients to watch a comedic film and pick their funniest scene, or hold client appreciation events at a comedy club or set up stage readings from humorous plays.

Lifelong learning is also important, Cirillo adds. Advisers could let clients know they’re enrolling in an online course and invite them to sign up as well.

If clients face health issues — whether mental or physical — advisers do not want to overstep their bounds and dispense amateur medical advice. But it’s fine to raise awareness of community resources that clients can tap.

For clients who are lonely and could benefit from increased socialization, advisers can provide information about local senior centers, home visitor services and programs such as the Village to Village Network that help older people combat isolation and remain independent.

“Frame it in terms of opportunities versus ‘You seem depressed and should get out more,’” said Jan Mutchler, director of the Gerontology Institute at University of Massachusetts, Boston. “Connect them to resources as a way they can expand their own life” in a positive way.

“It’s enabling them to become more self-aware,” said Thomas West, an adviser at Signature Estate & Investment Advisors in Tysons, Va. Advisers who inquire about clients’ aspirations and expectations as they age can tailor advice to fit their needs. Perhaps the best question to get started is the simplest: What’s most important to you?

More: ‘She never explained anything’: I’m a senior citizen and I lost $100,000 in the stock market this year. Can I sue my financial adviser?

Plus: ‘After you’re dead, you can’t explain it.’ Parents usually split their estate evenly among their kids. But if they don’t — look out.

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