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The Advisor’s Role in Helping Clients with Meaningful Life Transitions

The Advisor’s Role in Helping Clients with Meaningful Life Transitions

The following piece is taken from the August 2021 issue of Planned Giving Today, reprinted here with the publisher's permission. You can also read the full issue, try a free sample issue, or subscribe to Planned Giving Today at a special discounted rate using your Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® (CAP®) program graduate or affiliate promo code.


In general, life is composed of three stages: 1) learn – to thrive and get a good job; 2) earn – a period of building wealth to take care of family and needs; and 3) retire. The midlife stage, generally between 35 and 75 years old, or the high potential earning years and into early retirement, is where most charitable activities and estate and financial planning tend to take place. This period is marked by constant change and transition, including career and relationship changes, taking care of parents and children, sometimes simultaneously, and personal health. A heightened sense of depression, stress, loneliness, and being overwhelmed are common words to describe this time, also known as the “midlife crisis.”

Advisors are adept at the technical planning required to manage these transitions: organizing finances, completing estate plans, and protecting assets. Yet, very little support is available to those managing the confluence of these events on the behavioral perspective. In addition, Stanford University’s Center on Longevity is reimagining what a century of life means in a new project, “A New Map of Life.” In this article, I outline several ways that advisors can support clients or donors experiencing transitions.

1. Self-awareness and acceptance allow clients to manage and master their growth through various life transitions.

You can help clients understand what it means to live a longer life and obtain the skills needed to manage their psychological well-being and development. For example, some wealth management firms are beginning to host seminars for clients around the science of longevity, explaining physical, emotional, and psychological changes. Other advisors introduce researchers from organizations such as the Buck Institute on Aging to share new scientific research programs. For some advisors, it is helping clients lean into or explore their spirituality. By demystifying life transitions and providing your clients with the tools to navigate uncertainty, your clients will gain greater autonomy and control of their life.

2. Purpose is essential for happiness and longevity, especially as one transitions from the purpose of work and wealth creation.

Chip Conley, the founder of Modern Elder Academy, shares that increased purpose has shown to positively affect happiness and life expectancy. Generally, clients are entering a phase in which they are questioning their view of life and triggering a search for meaning. Bob Buford, author of the book “Halftime,” speaks of the journey from “success to significance.” You can help your clients uncover their greater purpose, whether it is a more profound sense of where they are or a “reboot” to where they wish to be. Often, a client’s purpose involves contributing to society, leaving a mark, or leaving a legacy. This is a good time to reexamine, with the client, organizations and causes they support, their philanthropic impulses, what stirs their soul, what they would like to make right, and how they can make a greater social impact. It is important to connect the earlier accomplishments to their renewed purpose and the future as it is a regenerative process.

3. New networks are sometimes needed for renewed purpose and personal connection, especially when in transition.

Advisors can help clients identify their support team of family, friends, and community. Warm and trusting interpersonal relationships can have a positive effect on life expectancy.

For those entering retirement, a new network, or being with others entering the same phase in life, may provide the support and freedom to explore and even shed an identity they wish to leave behind. Advisors with a similar group of clients in transition may consider forming informal small, private networks or study groups, bringing in experts such as life coaches, intergenerational communication specialists, or health experts. These groups may provide learning and community building opportunities.

4. Embracing and incorporating lifelong learning and curiosity.

An increasing number of spiritual and educational institutions offer lifelong learning programs. Yet few of them address the needs of those in transitions as they focus on human capital development and not on human-centered development. Exceptions exist, including Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative and Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute, which provide programming for those transitioning to explore purpose, community, wellness, and intergenerational engagement.

At The American College of Financial Services, where I work, we are developing a program to support executives, small business owners, and others who are in transition. We saw an opportunity to serve those who wish to refresh, deepen, or more significantly repurpose and transition their energies in an accessible and flexible program that meets participants where they are. This approach ensures a path grounded in family, values, legacy, and what matters most. In addition, the program supports the participants in the practice of social impact, with new ideas, new tools, and new friends.

According to the 2020 Census, there are approximately 73 million Baby Boomers. By 2030, all Baby Boomers will be age 65 or older. As a result, we can better serve advisors by recognizing and understanding the needs of clients who are struggling or need a little more support through transitions.

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