How Long Do Your Clients Think They’ll Live?

Longevity conversations, crucial for retirement planning, don’t have to be as awkward and gloomy as you may think, says our columnist.

By Dave Buck
Dave Buck
Dave Buck

LinkedIn is my platform of choice. I spend most of my social media time and engagement there. When posting content, you can select the feature that lets you ask a question, in the form of a poll, and collect the results. One day I inquired, “How long do you think you will live?” I gave four different date range choices, starting in the 50s on up to 100-plus years. I never expected the storm of negative criticism I would receive publicly and privately.

“You are a gross human being!”

“How morbid!”

“What is wrong with you?”

“You should be kicked off the platform.”

Clearly, the idea of exploring our mortality can be an emotional topic for many. However, in my stubbornness (or stupidity), I was not deterred. The conversation of lifespan is a key component to helping my clients plan their post-career lifestyle strategy.

The topic of longevity can be daunting for both financial advisors and their clients. After all, who wants to think about their own mortality? However, as life expectancy continues to grow, it is becoming increasingly important to have a conversation about longevity with your clients.

The good news is that this conversation doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. By outlining it as a lifestyle planning opportunity, you can help your clients see the possibilities that lie ahead.

Framing the topic

Consider this approach to get the longevity discussion started with your clients:

  • Seek permission. Set the discussion table by requesting their consent to dialog on this topic. Begin with something like, “To help me better serve your financial needs, may we discuss your thoughts on life expectancy?”
  • Ask around the topic first. Don’t ever rip the band aid off and start with, “When are you going to die?” Instead, ask probing questions. For example, What are your clients’ goals for retirement? What do they want to do with their time? Once you have a good understanding of their ambitions (or affirm what may have discussed previously), you can start to talk about how longevity might impact them.
  • Bring it to light. The Retirement Time Analysis (RTA) tool I use asks clients to answer the question, “What do you anticipate will be your life expectancy?” If you are working with couples, obtain an answer from both. You will be surprised by how many spouses or partners have never discussed this with each other.

Diving deeper

Now that the cat is out of the bag, it is important that the conversation continues. Here’s how:

  • Be positive. Focus on the possibilities that longevity offers, rather than the challenges. Help your clients to see how they can use their extra years to travel, pursue hobbies, or spend more time with loved ones.
  • Be realistic. It’s important to be honest with your clients about the risks of aging. However, you can also emphasize the steps they can take to reduce these risks. For example, you can talk about the importance of staying active, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular checkups.
  • Be practical. Couples will be faced with what I call “alone time” or a period where one will pass away before the other. From both national data and responses in the RTA, a wife will outlive her husband by just over 5 years. This is an opportunity to help them plan their post-career life together, so many shared goals can be experienced together.
  • Be flexible down the road. The longevity discussion is a fluid one. As your clients’ goals and circumstances change, you’ll need to be willing to adapt your approach.

“The longevity discussion is a fluid one. As your clients’ goals and circumstances change, you’ll need to be willing to adapt your approach.”

Seeing the benefits

You may be thinking, “This seems risky, I am not sure it will go well.” That can be the case with some of your clients. However, a longevity discussion offers definitive benefits for both you and your clients including the ability to:

  • Build trust. A successful lifespan discussion can be a positive emotional experience that lets your clients look at you beyond just the “numbers person.”
  • Achieve a better understanding of their retirement goals. As we mentioned earlier, longevity can impact your clients’ retirement objectives in a number of ways. By having a conversation about longevity, you can help them make sure that their goals are realistic and achievable.
  • Develop a sense of clarity to make better financial decisions. Longevity can also have a significant impact on your clients’ finances. By understanding the risks and challenges of aging, they can make better decisions about how to save and invest for retirement.
  • Live a more fulfilling life. By understanding the possibilities that longevity offers, your clients can start to plan for a more fulfilling life in their later years.

Going for it

The last thing I’d want you to experience with your clients is what happened to me with my LinkedIn poll. However, I have had heartfelt and enlightened discussions with people about the possibilities presented when they seek to quantify the length of their life.

Additional Reading: Are Your Clients Mentally Ready to Retire? 

Depending on which source you cite, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is around 79 years. People who have taken the Retirement Time Analysis (RTA) estimate their lifespan at just over 87 years. Their average retirement age is 66 years, meaning they typically expect to spend almost one-quarter of their life in a post-career setting. Think of all the qualitative plans your clients can make when you help them quantify the number of years that they think they have left.

Dave Buck is the author of the upcoming book “The Time-Optimized Life”, owner of Kairos Management Solutions, LLC, and founder of the Infinity Lifestyle Design program. As a Certified Retirement Planning Coach (CRPC), he helps business professionals who see retirement on the horizon craft a lifestyle strategy of purpose, fulfillmen, and joy. Dave also works with financial planners helping their clients understand post-career life. To learn more contact him at [email protected] or visit


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