‘Sandwich’ Clients Need a Problem-Solver

Advisors can build trust by helping clients and their parents navigate the inevitable choices that come with getting older.

By Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders

Is your client a member of the “sandwich generation?” The last child has graduated from college and moved into an apartment, but their own parents are at the stage when living independently is becoming less practical. Moving the parents into those recently vacated children’s bedrooms seems like an all-too-likely possibility. What can your client do?

First, let’s look at what your client may do. They may reorder their priorities. Personal money management may fall down the list if it is not dropped completely. They may not want to talk about business. It’s not forever, just until this problem is resolved.

This has the potential to put enormous stress your client’s marriage. Unlike the children, who are the product of both parties, the parents belong to one or the other side of the family. Your client might think of words they would like others to use to describe them, including successful, professional and good parents. “Caregiver” is not among them.

What could be going on in the minds of the aging parents? They may want to stay in their house, even if it is a white elephant from a maintenance standpoint. They may think your clients feel the same and are looking forward to inheriting the family home. And they realize inheritance gets closer every day and might feel the prospect of a big payday later entitles them to free labor and care now.

What Is the Real Issue?

The children want the best care and living situation possible for their parents. They may not know their options. Their parents may not be keen on change. All this causes stress.

What is the Wrong Solution?

You have heard people joke about this type of situation.  Your client’s children, whom they just put through college, say they will “pull the plug” on the parents when they get old. Your client hopes they are joking.

What’s the Risk of Not Addressing the Situation?

The answer is obvious. Aging is not like an illness followed by a recovery. Older people keep getting older. Parts fail. Mobility is impaired. The problem gets worse. Everyone winds up resenting everyone else.

Why Should the Financial Advisor Get Involved?

There is no immediate money to be made by the advisor. This works to your advantage. You are seen as a problem-solver. As a third party, you do not suffer from “can’t see the forest for the trees.” You can look at all the options. By offering help and advice, you strengthen the relationship.

Additional Reading: 18 Ways to Help Clients Survive Winder

How Should the Advisor Bring Up the Subject with Their Client?

You are not going to talk directly with the client’s parents, bypassing the client. That could go badly wrong. You should start with a conversation with your client couple. Here are some questions to get the conversation started:

  1. How are your folks doing? How is their health? These are normal questions to ask when you are catching up.
  2. Are they anxious about the future? The client’s parents might realize they are slowing down. Their friends are passing away. People often contemplate their own mortality.
  3. Can they look after themselves? This is a question your client has in the back of their mind. You are getting it out into the open. They will likely tell you stories.
  4. Does this concern them too? Your client is seeing a deterioration in their health. They may assume their parents are unaware. Have they ever asked?
  5. Have you talked with them about it? Encourage your clients to make decisions together with their parents, even if they feel they are acting in their parents’ best interests. Of course, that may not be possible if their parents are no longer capable of making decisions.
  6. Let’s talk about the options. This brings us to the next section.

What Issues Should Be Discussed?

  1. What are the parents’ wishes? How attached are they to their big house? Are they struggling to stay there because they want their children to inherit the house? Can they navigate the stairs? Is the house getting regular maintenance?
  2. Look at the parents’ financial picture. They have both investment assets and physical assets. Treat the house as an asset. How much of their net worth does it represent?
  3. How flexible are the parents? Is downsizing an option? Do they want to end their years in this home?
  4. What are the alternatives? The parents might think the only options on the table are a nursing home, with all the negative connotations the words imply, and moving in with the kids. But there are plenty of options. Ads on TV offer “help around the house” where someone can visit on a regular basis, assisting with cooking and dressing. Your clients might be getting to the age when they start receiving postcards advertising retirement communities. People in those places live in single-story, easy-to-maintain cottages or in an apartment building with services like those on cruise ships. They might even choose to spend months aboard a cruise ship sailing around the world. Plenty of older people do it. This is less expensive than you might imagine. Further down the list is moving in with the children.
  5. Remove the house from the equation. Your client’s parents have cash assets and this big house. Go through a “what if” exercise, looking at what would happen if they sold the house and got a chunk of cash. What would the options look like? Put another way, what would living in a cottage in a nearby over-55 retirement community look like? This might be the moment your client’s parents realize they have other friends living in the same place. They can get in touch and sound them out.
  6. Research the most practical options in detail. What will it cost to buy into the retirement community where they already know people? How long is the waiting list? What are the monthly fees? Does the complex offer higher levels of care if necessary?

Next Steps

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. It is time for you to step back. Your clients have a problem. You have defined it. They may have had no options or were considering only the most uncomfortable ones. You provided a much larger list of options. You helped them cost them out. Now they are in a position to make informed decisions, together as a family.

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” is available on Amazon.



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