The Essential Role of Financial Advisors in Senior Transitions

Why Clients Need Both Practical and Emotional Support

Navigating the complexities of elder care transitions is a daunting task, but it can also be a significant opportunity for financial advisors to deepen their relationships with clients. For Patti Black, CFP®, a Birmingham, Alabama-based advisor at Savant Wealth Management, this challenge became personal when she had to help her parents find the right senior housing option more than once.

A few years ago, Black's parents transitioned to assisted living. Unfortunately, her mother, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and had limited mobility, experienced a severe fall. Upon her hospital discharge, they were informed she couldn’t return to assisted living. “Six months after settling them initially, we had to start over,” Black recalls. This time, they opted for a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), offering a continuum of care including Independent Living, Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing, and Memory Care.

Black has become an expert at navigating senior services and resources and underscores the importance of the emotional and psychological support that senior clients require and last year became a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA). “It’s vital that clients feel heard and understood, especially when it comes to where they will live, how it will be paid for, and legacy they desire to leave behind,” explains Black.

CSAs are knowledgeable about the health and social issues affecting seniors and often work collaboratively with financial advisors to provide in-depth, specialized knowledge of Medicare, Medicaid, Long-Term Care, estate planning, and related areas of expertise that enhances the overall financial planning process for older adults.

“It’s all about supporting clients in making difficult decisions about their finances and care, considering both practical and emotional factors,” says Black. “The family conversation is an ongoing dialogue between advisors, clients, and their family and remember, don’t get locked into ‘this is the answer’.”

Making Family Conversations Part of a Holistic Planning Process

Although the general rule-of-thumb financial advice “make fewer mistakes” can be applied to most clients, it is especially important for older clients, says Aaron Cirksena, founder and CEO of MDRN Capital, an Annapolis, Maryland-based wealth management firm.

For MDRN Capital high net worth clients, it all comes down to process. After MDRN advisors work with new clients on holistic financial plans and then weave CPAs and estate planners into the rigorous onboarding process over the first few months, it’s time to start having the real, somewhat difficult family conversations like family inheritances, legacy planning, and the tough talks about where Mom and Dad will live out their remaining years.

And his advisors are trained to have those tough conversations. “As advisors, we always want people to be happy. But our job is not to be your best friend. Often it’s those difficult conversations, held early – and often -- that can truly determine family harmony, financial freedom, and family legacies,” says Cirksena.

He likens planning to planting a tree, “The best time was 30 years ago. Involving the next generation (G2) early ensures smoother transitions and better financial outcomes during health crises.”

Before you get to G2, you have to ask clients about their desired situation and put together a real estate strategy for the next 5, 10, or even 20 years out, says Cirksena. “Often the burden of family responsibility falls on the child with the closest proximity to the parents. The task of proactively incorporating key family members into the family conversation is now part of our annual advisor scorecard. It’s that important. It might not come easy for some advisors, but we have to learn to stretch the muscles of empathy, listening, and understanding. That how we build trust with the family.”

Weaving in Qualitative and Emotional skills

Many advisors have not yet had deep experience helping client navigate health care or living choices, but it all starts with boosting EQ (Emotional Quotient) skills, says Michael Hausknost, a retired financial advisor, now serving on the Board of the Financial Planning Association of Orange County in Newport Beach, California. 

As a fiduciary, advisors also have a responsibility to engage clients on an emotional level, says Hausknost. “We have to go beyond our comfort zone of speaking about portfolio performance. That should only be 10% of the conversation. The rest should focus on important questions: What do we want? What keeps us up at night? How will our kids feel about making tough decisions on our behalf?  How can we still make a difference?”

But often those tough questions don’t get answered until it’s too late. Maybe there was a health event or even a death. “It’s vital that you make decisions when you are still capable of making decisions. You need things like healthcare directives, powers of attorney, Pour-Over Wills and more –and it’s not too early to take action on these items at age 55,” says Hausknost.

Beyond all the process and paperwork, Hausknost believes it’s crucial for advisors to have meaningful conversations with clients about qualitative aspects of senior living arrangements. Some want solitude, others seek community. Some follow this kids and relocate across the country, others want to remain in their local town. Some want 100 amenities; others just care about the essentials – and decent food.

A growing number of financial advisors now accompany clients to visit prospective assisted living facilities. “Don’t be afraid to demand certain requirements that can qualitatively improve your life. For example, you can ask that your room face east so you can enjoy the morning sun. Or you can insist that your room have a great view of the greenspace. I even had a client that loved their afternoon drink of scotch – and stipulated that it be an ongoing amenity of the facility,” says Hausknost.

When his mom turned 89 two years ago, she realized that she could no longer live by herself. She had come to understand that “it may be time”. She did not want stranger in her home so he moved her to an assisted living facility in Santa Monica, California. Over her first year she enjoyed her new community and made a lot of new friends. She enjoyed going on walks to the ocean, but then started getting lost and confused. One day, she was found by the local police. Then came the tough conversation about transferring into a Memory Care unit. “It’s a beautiful place, but you’re locked in. Mom now thinks she’s in jail – and now I’m the bad son. But it was the right thing to do.”

Tapping into Concierge and Patient Advocate Resources

Many advisors have evolved to play the “quarterback” role of setting the strategy and bringing in experts when needed such as estate planning attorneys and CPAs. Now there’s a breed of professionals to help with major aging transitions that now includes concierge medical resources and patient advocates.

If financial resources allow, advisors may want to research and recommend a concierge medical services to their clients. These concierge medical services such as One Medical, Concierge Medical Today, and SignatureMD, can ensure that seniors transitioning to a SNF (skilled nursing facility) or assisted living receive consistent, high-quality, and personalized medical care, enhancing their quality of life and addressing their unique healthcare needs effectively.

A Certified Patient Advocate can significantly ease the transition for seniors moving into a nursing home, SNF, or assisted living facility. Their comprehensive support and expertise ensure that the senior’s needs are met, their rights are protected, and their well-being is prioritized, ultimately leading to a smoother and more positive transition experience. Leading groups providing certification for this profession include National Association of Healthcare Advocacy, Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, and Umbra Health Advocacy.

Time to Look in the Mirror

One of the challenges of getting older is realizing that you’re not age 49 anymore. As we age, our bodies and cognitive abilities slow down. That’s life and one of the most difficult aspects of aging is losing independence. Accepting help due to physical or mental limitations is hard and requires vulnerability, says Stephen Kates CFP®, Principal Financial Analyst at “Gen X and Baby Boomers who are supporting, caring for, or assisting their parents need to recognize that they will need to push past established boundaries to provide the necessary help.“

Older generations typically keep their finances close to the vest, and many are uncomfortable sharing details with their children or relatives. In a care-giving situation, this creates difficulties for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that older people are more susceptible to financial fraud. Protecting elderly relatives from themselves is essential in cases where they might otherwise mismanage their finances, says Kates.

Additionally, caring for a relative raises a mirror to our own mortality. The parents or relatives you remember as active and full of life are reaching a difficult period and it can be scary to witness. Knowing that our own future will travel a similar path can be uncomfortable and frustrating. He adds, “As I have seen personally with clients and my own grandparents, the process of caring for and managing the aftermath of a loved ones’ care can wake many people up to their own financial planning shortcomings. Executing a disorganized estate is an incentive to be more organized yourself.”


Savant Wealth’s Patti Black underscores the importance of bringing G2 into the mix early and often and says an important part of the family conversation, when appropriate, is to give permission to adult children. “You have to trust them and allow them the ability to make a change on your behalf down the road – all while continuing to honor the wishes of the loved one.”

By integrating emotional intelligence, family involvement, and professional expertise, financial advisors can significantly enhance the support they provide to senior clients. These strategies not only ensure better financial outcomes but also improve the overall quality of life for seniors during crucial transitions.