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These are very challenging times. Historically, the primary justification for fees was the ability to add value by managing an investment portfolio. But this has become more of a commodity, with the advent of robo-advisors and hybrid advisors like Charles Schwab and Vanguard, who compete directly for retail business, at a sharply reduced fee.

Financial planning is the next area likely to meet the same fate. There’s no end to the financial planning software available to advisors. It’s only a matter of time before similarly sophisticated software will be accessible directly by clients from easy-to-use platforms.

What’s left?

There’s one area where you can add value – and where even the most sophisticated software cannot succeed. It’s largely ignored and often misunderstood. It’s also a subject few want to confront, which is why you can play such an important role.

End of life is complex

I used to think end-of-life discussions were fairly straightforward. All that was involved was insuring my clients had a will and a health care proxy.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Most people have an idealized vision of how they want to die. They would like to be at home, surrounded by friends and family, without pain and die quietly.

The reality is very different.

According to an article in the New York Times, 50% of patients will die in hospitals “tethered to machines and feeding tubes” or in nursing homes. I’ve never met anyone who wanted to die that way.

You can have a major impact on your clients and their families by asking the following questions:

If you get a serious diagnosis, how aggressively do you want to be treated?

Clients should be aware that predictions by doctors are often overly optimistic. According to Nicholas A. Christakis, in his book Death Foretold, when doctors provide a prognosis, they are only correct about 20% of the time. They err on the side of optimism.

I am aware of a number of situations where patients in their 70s had advanced cancer and were told there was a statistically small possibility of surviving for five years with aggressive treatment. In each case, the quality of their remaining life was destroyed due to the pernicious side effects of chemotherapy. They died within a year. In retrospect, they would have been better off avoiding treatment and treasuring the time they had left.