Should financial advisors broach the subject if their clients who are planning for retirement are morbidly obese, chain smoke, or abuse alcohol or drugs?

Scott Tucker, planner and founder of Financially Fit in Colorado Springs, Colo., not only thinks it is his place to discuss such subjects with clients, he markets the concept of holistic health with the tagline, “Whole Health Ethos: Let’s go beyond your bank account.” He talks to clients often about his love of sports, recreation, health and nutrition, referencing books, articles or websites.

“I don’t necessarily talk about longevity, but I do tell smokers that if they want to get a better rate on their life insurance policy, they should quit smoking,” Tucker says.

“I show them that even just after 20 years, they could save thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, and that is just on the policy’s premium, not to mention the cost of cigarettes and of potential health care treatments,” he says. “This hypothetical has been a real incentive for a number of clients to then quit smoking.”

Unhealthy chronic behaviors are usually a result of another underlying psychiatric issue for which a licensed medical professional is more suited, says Catherine M. Seeber, a principal and senior advisor at Wescott Financial Advisory Group LLC in Philadelphia.

However, most, if not all, carry with it a negative financial impact.

“If the client is comfortable enough to discuss and has openly admitted to the behavior, there is no reason why you shouldn't help them by providing them professional contacts and other resources that can help,” Seeber says.

“Share success stories and illustrate what they can do with the money otherwise spent on harmful vices,” she says. “And remind them that their loved ones, especially the next generation, would most likely enjoy having them around longer!”

Daniel Sheehan, founder of Sheehan Life Planning in Fresno, Calif., says that he tries to involve clients’ supportive family members in any discussions, with the clients’ permission.

“With that said, there may be issues that are outside the scope of a planner's capability, and a psychologist or other like professional may need to be brought into the case. These are very sensitive areas of planning, and the person giving the advice needs to be trained and have the experience to guide a client properly and with empathy,” Sheehan says.

But not everyone thinks advisors should speak to clients about their health problems.

Harriet J. Brackey, director of investments at GSK Wealth Advisors in Hollywood, Fla., says that it isn’t her place.

But if clients aren’t taking their health into account within their retirement plan, Brackey says she would ask them to complete the “Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator.”

“The results can be a wake-up call,” Brackey says.

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer in Running Springs, Calif. She has contributed to American Banker, Risk & Insurance and Human Resource Executive.

This story is part of a 30-day series on Social Security and retirement income strategies.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All On Wall Street content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access