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Funeral Services: How A Financial Advisor’s Value Goes Beyond Returns or Wealth Management

Date: September 22, 2021

While so much of the conversation about a financial advisor’s value is focused on portfolio returns or wealth management services, we do far more than just help our client’s bottom line. Every day, we’re helping our clients navigate difficult financial situations, providing guidance and advice when a client gets worried about market downturns, and otherwise providing service that goes above and beyond. 

Because it’s not as easy to assign a dollar value to those extra things we do, we tend to just ignore it and forget about it — but even if it doesn’t have a quantifiable dollar amount, these services still provide tremendous value. To explain what I mean, let’s take a look at an example from my own financial advisory experience. 

The Funeral that Almost Didn’t Happen

For privacy reasons, names and other identifying details were omitted but the story is true.

An elderly client of ours in his late eighties had a nest egg of over $500,000. The man lived with his two daughters, one of whom had special needs and another who had made sacrifices in her career and education to take care of her sister and her aging father. As a result, the family depended heavily on the man’s retirement income and savings. 

When the father passed away, his estate paperwork included a Trust with instructions to split the assets equally between the daughters. However, the daughters weren’t joint owners on his accounts so the funds wouldn’t fall under their control until all the estate was settled. Even working as quickly as we could, this process would take weeks — waiting for the death certificate alone can take up to 10 days.

In the meantime, the daughters were planning their father’s funeral but, without access to their father’s accounts and with no friends or family in a position to cover the costs temporarily, they were struggling to make the arrangements. The mortuary and church where the service would be held both wanted payment in advance.

With no income of their own and no one to turn to, they were at a loss. 

I advised the daughters to put me in touch with the mortuary and church they were making arrangements with. They did. With permission, I reached out to both parties and assured them that the daughters had the funds to cover the funeral and the service but that it would be three or four weeks before we could cut them a check.

At first, both the mortuary and church were reluctant to go through with the service before receiving payment. Even so, I didn’t give up. After several more calls, both parties finally said they would agree as long as our financial advisory practice would vouch for the daughters.

This request put us in a tricky situation but we were eventually able to get the parties to agree to accept a letter signed by the daughter attached to a letter from our firm stating that the funds to cover the service and funeral were there and that the daughters agreed to pay in full once the estate was settled. We also prepared a distribution form with the church and mortuary’s payment details which the daughter signed so that the payment could go through the moment it was settled.

After all the paperwork was prepared and signed, we mailed it to both parties. As if the situation wasn’t already tricky enough, the package was delayed. I immediately contacted the mortuary and church to let them know of the delay and, in the meantime, emailed PDF copies of all the documents for their records while they awaited the hard copies with wet signatures.

In the end, the daughters were able to have a funeral for their father while we took care of the nitty gritty of settling the estate and making sure the payments for that funeral went through.

The Takeaway: Financial Advisors Are More than Just Wealth Managers

First, this story is a prime example of why it’s so important to make sure your clients have their estate planning documents in order. It’s not easy to talk about but getting vital details settled, like assigning a power of attorney who’s authorized to access the deceased’s bank accounts, can make the difficult experience of losing a loved one a little easier, at least from a legal and financial standpoint.

Secondly, I wanted to highlight the level of service we provided for those clients, which went far beyond simple wealth management or financial advice. I point that out not to brag, but to show all the ways financial advisors are providing value that they rarely keep track of the same way they might track portfolio returns or other metrics of value. 

Imagine how much worse that story would have turned out if we hadn’t taken the time to work out an agreement with the mortuary and church. While there’s no easy way to quantify that support we provided in making sure that those daughters were able to arrange a funeral to grieve their father, it’s nevertheless an invaluable service that financial advisors can and do provide. 

These are precisely the kind of value-adding services that can set you apart from the rest. Every advisor will advertise their ability to maximize returns, but how much support you can provide as your clients navigate challenging financial situations or look for the best way to achieve their goals in life. 

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