Critical Illness Tests Advisor’s Best-Laid Plans

During months of recuperation, he reflected on his experiences and drafted these lessons for advisors.

By Larry Mathis

“Mr. Mathis, we need to talk.”

“Sure, go ahead; what’s up?”

“We don’t know what you have, you’re getting worse, and we don’t know if you’re going to make it.”

That was Day 3 of what turned into a 34-day stay at Flagstaff Medical Center in Northern Arizona.

When the pandemic arrived, my wife Rhonda and I decided to make our Northern Arizona home our permanent location. We both had Covid in early January 2021. It was rough, but we both powered through 12 days of fever, chills, loss of smell and taste, and extreme tiredness — and came out of it with no significant lingering effects.

Fast forward to April 2022, when I developed a cough. Since I also had a cough the previous two springs in Northern Arizona, I attributed it to the pine pollen and didn’t give it too much concern until I began to develop shortness of breath. Eventually saw my family doctor in Phoenix, who referred me to a cardiologist. A few days later, I passed a stress electrocardiogram relatively easily. So, we headed back “up the hill” to our mountain home.

Exhaustion hits

I am an early riser and usually feed our two horses before my wife has her first cup of coffee. But that Saturday I was so tired that Rhonda got up and took care of the horses, letting me sleep in. The next day, Mother’s Day (May 8, 2022), I was still in bed at 11:30 am, so exhausted I could barely move. Rhonda got me into our truck and drove 40 minutes to the emergency department at Flagstaff Medical Center. I was diagnosed with bilateral viral (non-Covid) pneumonia and hospitalized, starting a long road of health concerns.

After being released from Flagstaff Medical Center more than a month later, Rhonda and I decided to return to Phoenix’s lower elevation to help speed my recovery.  I ended up in the hospital there on three different occasions, albeit for much shorter durations. As you can imagine, I saw many doctors and specialists during my hospital stays.

And, I had a lot of time to reflect on my experiences and consider the lessons we can learn as advisors.

Be truthful

I was laid up in a hospital bed followed by a long recuperation, but my firm was still running and our clients still needed to be serviced. The initial dilemma was what to do; but ultimately, I had to be honest and vulnerable and share with my clients what was going on in my life.

After all, that is what we would also want from our clients, right? How can we promote our ethos as relationship-based advisors unless we keep connected with our clients?

With the help of my team and our marketing agency, we crafted a client email that not only shared my situation but also sought to remind everyone that our redundancy plans were at work. If I was nervous about sending this letter, I needn’t have been because the response was amazing. I received many positive replies and well wishes from our clients.

Taking Care of Business

We constantly advise our clients to have plans that cover their financial and estate planning needs. But like the builder who lives in a rundown house, do we remember to take care of our own business? If ever there was one of those classic moments when life throws a huge, unexpected curveball, it was now.

I was fortunate to have a good team and a solid infrastructure in place to hold together my firm during a potential absence. This crisis tested certainly tested that plan.

Yes, I was able to communicate via email and occasional phone calls with my team during this time. But, my direct communication with clients was extremely limited. Two of my team members are fully licensed and were able to take over the reins to make decisions that kept the business running smoothly and provided reassurance to our clients. Plus, we have a third-party money manager in place to maintain the investment process. This was invaluable to keep the business on an even keel.

The same was true of our marketing which, believe me, was the first thing I would have dropped off my list of essential tasks. Oh, but how wrong I was. If anything, I learned that keeping our marketing plan in place was part of telling our current clients that we were still here, and that business was running as usual.

We had already outsourced our marketing content to Beyond AUM, and their team was an invaluable resource in keeping this workflow uninterrupted. This all served to remind me that, as advisors and business owners, we need to strive to become obsolete. Yes, however strange that may sound to us, our businesses need to be able to continue without us.


As a patient in the hospital bed, rather than the expert consultant standing alongside it, I was on the receiving side of the service. These experiences got me thinking about how we act as trusted advisors to our clients.

You remember the doctor who told me she didn’t know if I would make it? A pulmonary specialist told me afterward, “Listen, Larry, I’ve seen situations similar to yours before, and we’re going to get you through this. You are going to make it. Your job is to focus on getting well.”

Those words made a big impact.

As advisors, we need to remember that being positive and having a growth mindset can make a difference; so can being curious.

For example, an internist puzzled by my debilitating cough did some research and found a different medication for me to try that helped significantly. Up to this point, I’d seen a multitude of doctors who hadn’t taken the extra time to research a medication that might help my cough.

As advisors, we — like medical professionals — provide a service and must welcome and encourage input from those we serve. The most impactful professionals are those who step outside the box and are willing to listen, be positive and research an answer that might just work for the patient/client.


As mentioned earlier, we recommend that our clients have an effective estate plan in place. There is nothing like a major health scare to remind you of the importance of that advice.

As business owners, building a succession plan can be more complex and have a much longer runway. I had already taken initial steps with a buy/sell agreement alongside onboarding my son into the business. There are many options to consider that are suitable for your firm, but what I learned most of all is that you can’t start succession planning too early.

It’s critical for our clients, our businesses and our own families that we take our own advice.

Larry Mathis, CFP, AIF, is founder and CEO of Mathis Wealth Management in Phoenix, Ariz. He is the author of “Mom Was Right: Family Tragedy to Financial Freedom – How a Widowed Mother of Seven Retired Debt-Free.” He has spoken for numerous organizations, including the Third Annual Invest in Women Conference, the American Association of Orthodontists, and the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health at A.T. Still University.

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