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“Proactively keep your mind sharp” With Beau Henderson & Sandra D. Adams

Cognitive health is the issue that is the most frightening, especially from a financial standpoint. Over the years, we have experienced a handful of clients begin to decline cognitively. Usually, money and financial concepts are the first to decline, so often we can begin to pick up on things even before family members, especially if […]

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Cognitive health is the issue that is the most frightening, especially from a financial standpoint. Over the years, we have experienced a handful of clients begin to decline cognitively. Usually, money and financial concepts are the first to decline, so often we can begin to pick up on things even before family members, especially if they live out of town or don’t get to visit often. Unfortunately, even early onset cognitive decline can leave a client vulnerable to financial fraud or other forms of financial manipulation. There are ways to proactively keep your mind sharp and fight off pending decline — active lifestyle, eating health and exercising the mind are all good ways to do this.


Ihad the pleasure of interviewing Sandra D. Adams, CFP®, Center for Financial Planning.

Sandra D. Adams, CFP® has been in the financial services business for nearly 24 years, working exclusively for Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Sandy, a lead financial planner and partner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc., has a Master’s in Gerontology and specializes in Elder Care Financial Planning. She is a frequent speaker and writer on related topics with local and national groups and media such as the Michigan Association of CPAs, Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology, the AICPA, The Wall Street Journal, Research Magazine, Retirement Daily and Journal for Financial Planning.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

That is a funny story. You know how they tell you, “It’s all about who you know?” Well, in my case, it really was. My undergraduate degree was in public relations, and quite honestly, my dream was always to work at a non-profit agency in a PR or communications position. I knew I wouldn’t earn a ton of money doing that, but I loved writing, working with media, working with people and helping people. I was working for Hospice of Michigan — finally in the Communications Department — when a friend of mine from my first job out of college called me out of the blue and asked if I was looking for a job. I really was not. After all, I had finally made it to a “PR” job. My friend, Eric Wade, who was the son of Estelle Wade, one of the three original partners at Center for Financial Planning, Inc., had thought of me when his mom’s firm was looking for someone to hire for a client service assistant position. I knew NOTHING about financial planning. While I was not looking for a job at the time, I decided to go talk to the partners at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. both because I knew Hospice was not doing well financially at the time AND because I trusted Eric. I fell in love with the people and the feel of the firm immediately and after giving it some thought decided to make a change. Some call it fate: two weeks later, I found out I would have been laid off at my job at Hospice had I not left on my own. And, it has been the best decision I have ever made in my life!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There are so many interesting things that have happened in almost 24 years, it’s hard to choose just one. One of the most interesting things is something that is an ongoing story. It started early on in my career at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. When I first started as a Client Service Assistant, I had the opportunity to work on an estate settlement case for a new client. A daughter in charge of her mother’s estate needed help gathering assets (individual bonds, stocks, mutual funds, etc.) from multiple sources and locations, locating cost basis and getting all of the assets into accounts with our firm and then dividing the assets amongst heirs, which at the time, were made up of her children and grandchildren. The project took several months to accomplish and we ended up with close to 10 new accounts from the estate settlement. Over the years, many of the family members have become financial planning clients and I, personally, work with many of them. There have been deaths and births, marriages, retirements, kids have gone to college, and bought first houses. All from great grandma’s estate. Talking about multi-generational families and multi-generational wealth transfer concepts is one thing — actually doing it and seeing it work in real life is quite another. It has been a learning experience to me like no other — and it is one that continues on.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

It wasn’t that humorous at the time, but I think it was definitely something I learned from (and something we all learned from). I was fairly new as a Client Service Assistant and new to the office. This was in 1996, so our CRM (client relationship management tools) was relatively non-existent at the time. What we knew about clients was either in client files or people just “knew.” The woman of a married couple client had called in to request a transfer of funds to their bank from her account. When I called back to confirm that the transaction had been completed, she was not home, so I left a message with her husband, thinking nothing of it. She called back in complete anger, indicating that they keep their financial transactions separate and that there was an understanding that we are not to communicate with her husband about her transactions. I was completely in shock; since I was new, and had not worked with them before, I did not know the “rules.” And since we had no CRM, it was not documented anywhere for me to know. I later learned that it was known by others that had worked with them before, but no one had thought to inform me. As I have developed my career as a planner, this is something I now am always aware of and ask about as I work with couples — some are more open about their financial affairs than others and it is always good to know going in what the “rules” are. And documenting personal preferences in our CRM is extremely important for our entire team so that nothing like this ever happens to anyone else (or makes another client uncomfortable unnecessarily).

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

So many people have helped to get me where I am and have taught me so many things. Dan Boyce sticks out as someone to whom I am particularly grateful. Dan is one of the original partners of Center for Financial Planning, Inc. whom I worked for as a Client Service Assistant when I first started. He went out of his way to make sure I understood what I was doing and how it impacted the planning work that he was doing. He felt so strongly about my development that he arranged for me to sit in with new clients for whom he was doing the initial planning process (with their permission). Going through that process, I fell in love with financial planning and that is what ultimately led me to want to study for my CFP®. And to add to the story, when Dan retired, I took over the relationship with those clients and still work with them and their family to this day.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

I would love to say my answer is “live a balance life and take time to do the things outside of work you enjoy doing to balance time at work” — but I am horrible at modeling this. My best suggestion is to pick an area of planning that you absolutely love…that you are passionate about and that continues to drive your interest each and every day. To the extent that you always have something new to look forward to and continue to challenge yourself, you can avoid burnout.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

I think there are a few key components: team members need to feel like they are a part of the process — transparency of information, having their voices heard (opinions, ideas, etc.) and they should have input on issues that impact them. A good flow of communication on an ONGOING basis needs to exist between team and leadership (all team meetings, departments meetings, committee meetings, etc.) especially important during times like we are having now when most of us are working remotely. There should be a mix of work and fun. There should be collaboration amongst team members for the good of the team and clients. Values (developed by the team) should be lived on a daily basis by all team members, including leadership.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact nearly every aspect of one’s life. Obviously everyone’s experience is different. But in your experience, what are the 5 most common things that people wish someone told them before they retired?

(1) It takes good planning and intention to have a meaningful retirement.

(2) Be prepared for the unexpected.

(3) There is a high likelihood you will serve as a caregiver for someone else in retirement.

(4) It is also likely that you will be responsible for someone else’s financial affairs during your retirement (serve as a financial fiduciary).

(5) There is a 70% chance that you or a loved one may need long-term care during your retirement — plan how you’d like to handle that in advance. Source: U.S. Administration on Aging 2019

Lets zoom in on this a bit. If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important financial issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

  1. Go into retirement with a healthy cash reserve — this gives you the both the flexibility to weather stressful times (like the Coronavirus) or big expenses, should they come up early on in retirement AND gives you time to adjust to your new normal without feeling overly pressed for cash flow.
  2. Have a retirement income plan going into retirement. Know how much (approximately) you will need to cover needs and wants on a monthly basis and where that will come from (pension, Social Security, and what investment accounts, if needed), so that you aren’t scrambling to figure that out at the last minute.
  3. Determine how you plan to pay for any potential long-term care expenses BEFORE you retire, whether that is by purchasing some kind of insurance or by self-insuring. The longer you wait to decide, the more likely you become uninsurable or the cost of insurance becomes too expensive to purchase, and your decision to self-insure is made for you. Especially with long-term care insurance, I have had too many clients “kick the can down the road” because they either don’t want to think about it, can’t make a decision, or just think they are too young to think about it (or it just will never happen to them). Then, once one of their parents have a long-term care event, they decide maybe they should think about buying some insurance, because they see how much the cost is and understand how detrimental it could be to their retirement plan if either of them were to have a long-term care issue. After age 65, the costs of long-term care insurance policies go up exponentially. In addition, the chance of having a health issue or taking a medication (like a pain medication for a chronic back issue, like a client of mine) that the underwriters won’t even consider insuring go up exponentially, as well. Looking at long-term care insurance between the ages of 55 and 65 is ideal.

If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important health issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

  1. Cognitive health
  2. Mobility/Strength
  3. General Health/Activity

Cognitive health is the issue that is the most frightening, especially from a financial standpoint. Over the years, we have experienced a handful of clients begin to decline cognitively. Usually, money and financial concepts are the first to decline, so often we can begin to pick up on things even before family members, especially if they live out of town or don’t get to visit often. Unfortunately, even early onset cognitive decline can leave a client vulnerable to financial fraud or other forms of financial manipulation. There are ways to proactively keep your mind sharp and fight off pending decline — active lifestyle, eating health and exercising the mind are all good ways to do this.

If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important things to consider before choosing a place to live after they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

  1. Find a place where you feel comfortable to do the things that you want to do in retirement.
  2. Find a place where you can get the services you need and stay social when you want to.
  3. Find a place that provides you with the flexibility to get services if/when you need them.

I had a client that was in her 90’s. She insisted that the only way that she would ever leave her home was horizontally. She had a very small home with low ceilings and small doorways, but we were able to bring caregivers in her home when she needed care — she had COPD. She had an oxygen tank and could walk the entirety of the home with her tank hooked up to her. She had a fall that put her in the hospital and it became clear that she was not going to recover. She wanted to get home. We measured the doors, etc. to make sure that the hospital bed and any needed equipment would fit in her home. It did and we were able to bring her home, where she spent her last two weeks before passing away peacefully. It doesn’t always work that way. Some people have homes that won’t accommodate their staying in their homes to receive care; or their care becomes too high level to receive at home. But in this case, we were able to make it work.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I honestly think it has to be something to help solve the caregiving problem we have in this country. We have literally millions of unpaid caregivers, many who don’t work at all or have been pulled out of the labor force to care for family members in need of care while in the meantime they put their own current financial situations and financial futures at risk. And it isn’t simply a matter of hiring professional caregivers to take their place so that they can work — we have a professional caregiver shortage in our country, as well.

First, it is about providing adequate pay for professional caregivers to encourage more people to pursue that as a career. Second, it is about finding a way to provide support for family caregivers so that they can most efficiently utilize the non-profit agencies and community support agencies available to them so that they might be able to continue to work in some capacity and provide for themselves and their families. This may be through Employee Assistance Programs, Area Agency on Aging support/training programs, etc. Part of this should be Social Work/Financial Planning support for the family to make sure that both the person being cared for is receiving all of the social support possible AND that the caregiver has a solid financial plan for him/herself.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

One book that I have read that has made a particular impact on me has been “Being Mortal,” by Atul Gwande.

The book brings to light that most of us do a very poor job of planning for or thinking about our end of life, and we certainly don’t communicate our wishes to our families. We do a lot to plan for our ideal lives, our ideal retirements, so why not the end of our lives? My favorite takeaway from the book was this:

“All we ask is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story. That story is ever changing. Over the course of our lives, we may encounter unimaginable difficulties. Our concerns and desires may shift. But whatever happens, we wan to retain the freedom to shape our lives in ways consistent with our character and loyalties.” — Atul Gwande

This was brought to light for me when I had a client pass away years ago who had clearly never taken my advice and written down or spoken to his family about his end of life wishes. I remember his daughter calling me from the funeral home to let me know of his death. She was literally in tears, telling me she had no idea what he would have wanted and that it was so stressful trying to make those decisions when she was already so emotional. I could hear the pain in her voice and I never wanted to hear that again. I use that example when I encourage other clients to write down and communicate their wishes to their families IN ADVANCE.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” So, apparently, my father wasn’t the author of this quote, it was actually German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the actual wording is “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” I have applied this in many ways and in an many situations in my life so far, from challenging situations in youth and high school softball, to difficult times in college, to tough times finding a first job out of college, to a rocky time in my first marriage and being a single mom with two small children, while I was studying for my CFP®. Every time, it has turned out to be true, although I will tell you that when I was going through the situation, it was the last thing I want to hear!

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Linked In: Sandra D. Adams, CFP®

Twitter: @Sandy_CenterFP

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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