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The Gift of Simplicity

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There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness, and truth are absent,” wrote Leo Tolstoy in his anything-but-simple 19th century novel War and Peace, which in my Penguin Books edition runs 1,470 pages and introduces more than 500 characters. The double irony was that Tolstoy could preach the virtues of simplicity and self-consciously attempt to live a simple, rural life because he had tons of dough: He was a member of the Russian nobility who lived the simple life on a massive estate.

Tolstoy comes to mind because this edition of Investment Advisor focuses on the important issue of how advisors can make life simple for their clients. As many of you have told me over the years, the main service you provide to clients is peace of mind: You worry about the details of their investments, estate plans, retirement accounts, and so forth so clients don’t have to fret the small stuff. That service allows clients to instead focus on the work and pastimes they value and that their wealth allows them to enjoy. Three articles this month address how advisors put that service goal into action. In our cover story (page 56), we tell the tale of a planner in Pennsylvania Dutch country who specializes in meeting the financial needs of his Amish and Mennonite neighbors. Himself a Mennonite, Paul Nolt was reluctant to share his story with us and even worried about the style of photography we’d employ in profiling him, because of the inherent aversion to publicity that these simple people exhibit. Luckily for us, Assistant Managing Editor Karen Hansen Weese convinced him to talk, however, which he agreed to partly out of a desire to increase understanding of these apparently old-fashioned Americans who nevertheless face some familiar challenges in managing their accumulated worldly goods for their welfare and that of their families and wider communities.

In our second “simplification” article this month, practitioner Frank Patzke tells an emotional story (page 64) of the difficulties he faces in understanding and implementing the strategies for what he argues should be the sixth core competency of advisors: endlife planning. It’s one thing to help clients draw up an estate plan. It’s quite another, Patzke found, to handle the financial, legal, medical, familial, and especially emotional issues associated with that stage of life when a loved one becomes ill or otherwise unable to care for herself. Patzke’s tale is quite personal, but just as he did in a well-received article in our July 2004 issue when he provided practical pointers for helping a wife or husband in the dark days after their spouse dies, Patzke lists specific steps your clients should take when they’re still hale and hearty to make their lives –and those of their loved ones–easier in that future time of trouble that many of us will face.

While it’s your noble, everyday job to help clients deal with the difficult complexities of their financial lives, the process can take an emotional toll on you, an issue addressed by columnist Olivia Mellan in a special feature this month (page 72). It’s not uncommon for members of the “helping professions” to need help themselves in dealing with stress, Mellan notes. It’s also not uncommon for high achievers like you to avoid getting that help. After all, you’re very busy solving other people’s problems, right? But if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be much good for other people. Mellan, a psychotherapist who practices what she preaches, lists some practical, time-proven steps you can take to ease the stress. Follow her advice for your own good. Your spouse, family, friends, and clients will benefit, too.

While we may strive for simplicity, thinking it will provide more happiness, each of us is also complex, like Count Tolstoy, and living in a complex world. You simplify life for your clients; just make sure you use the available tools, practices, and people to nourish the simple and complex sides of your personality.



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