When financial planning clients think about their future, they might imagine a relaxing retirement, world travel, or other pleasant experiences. What they’re probably not considering is their own death, even though everyone’s time remaining on Earth is finite (even if the number of years they have left is unknowable). And using this perspective, advisors can add value for clients by helping them prioritize their goals and explore whether their current behaviors match their desired outcomes.
With this in mind, it is easy to see how George Kinder’s three Life Planning questions help clients focus on the things that matter most to them. While Kinder’s first Life Planning question asks clients to ‘dream of freedom’, and to describe their ideal future life if nothing were to hold them back, the second question asks the client to do the same but, this time, while imagining they only have 5 to 10 years left to live.
The goal of the second Kinder Life Planning question is to encourage the client to focus on the present and to analyze gaps between how the client is actually living today and how they said they wanted to be living if all they had were the next 5 to 10 years. While this can help clients find more clarity around the particularly important aspects of their lives right now, it can also lead to potentially intense feelings of grief and/or loss.
While clients may feel vulnerable and uncomfortable having this discussion, advisors using the Kinder questions can help ease their clients’ discomfort by welcoming and normalizing any emotions that may come up, while keeping the focus on a deep exploration of the client’s priorities and specific goals. During this conversation, it is important for the advisor to offer complete support for and acceptance of the client, with the intent to discover – not to judge – the client’s views, using techniques such as exploratory questions and repeating back what they hear from the client.
When wrapping up the conversation around the second Life Planning question, the main objective is to determine how the client’s goals will be integrated into their financial plan (e.g., through a ‘statement of purpose’) and to identify how the relationship that exists between the financial planner and the client will support implementation. This is a way of grounding the discussion back to the financial plan and giving the client some framework of momentum.
Ultimately, the key point is that Kinder’s second Life Planning question forces clients to prioritize their goals within a restricted timeline. And because this question often elicits answers and insights that can be profound and emotionally painful, potentially exposing gaps between their current and desired behavior, it is important for advisors to be prepared to help clients gain clarity around how their priority gaps will be reconciled with sensitivity and compassion. Even though this can be a difficult conversation, in the end, it can lead to a deeper understanding of the client’s most important and immediate priorities, while also cultivating a growing sense of trust and confidence that enriches the advisor-client relationship!