How to Determine Whether or Not You Want to Report Financial Abuse
In a recent issue of Investment News, a study of financial advisors looked at this question. 591 advisors were asked about their experiences with elder financial abuse. One of the surprising findings focused on those advisors who knew or suspected abuse but did not report it.
A significant percentage of those who did not report abuse gave as a reason that they did not know who to contact. What is most troubling about this finding is that not knowing who to contact is such a simple problem to solve. Historically your regulators have never required that you have the name of a trusted contact for your client in order to open a file for that person. Here at AgingInvestor.comand AgingParents.com, where elder financial abuse comes up often, we think it is extremely short-sighted to be without a trusted contact or two in every client’s file. Isn’t it obvious that you need someone to call if a client gets into danger, whether it’s elder abuse or not? No one gets out of here alive and a client can live for quite a long time, developing cognitive impairment along the way. That puts a person at much higher risk for financial abuse.
New FINRA rules will require that you make “reasonable efforts” to get a trusted contact from your clients. We assure you, reasonable efforts are a lot easier to make when your client is signing up than they are when your client is 92 and forgetful or suspicious of everyone’s motives.
From us, two professionals who have worked with countless elders and their families over the last 10 years, we have three tips for every financial professional handling a client’s finances:
- You can’t ensure that your client will be competent for financial decisions forever. Be realistic! People are living longer and they may develop dementia or other cognitive impairment. Get at least two trusted contacts in every file for every client age 65 or older. Why two or more? One trusted contact might end up being the very person who is abusing your client–a family member.
- Get smart about the basics of recognizing red flags of diminished capacity. We offer a simple free checklist to help you. Click on the green button here to get yours now. These signs are warnings that your client is more vulnerable to manipulation by others.
- Know how to report financial elder abuse. You don’t have to be certain that abuse has occurred. You do need to know who may be doing it, when and how, in general (e.g., pushing your client into large, unexplained withdrawals). A reasonable suspicion is enough. It’s ok if you’re wrong. And you can do it anonymously. Call Adult Protective Services in the county where your client lives if you think someone is ripping off your vulnerable client.
Some advisors are worried that they’ll get sued for reporting suspected financial abuse. This is incorrect. Your regulators want you to report it. If you do what is reasonable, you are not a target. However, if you know that your impaired client is being financially abused and you do absolutely nothing, liability for failure to act is certainly possible.
Retirement Planning Has Its Limits: How to Prepare
Retirement planning is one of the issues that commonly leads clients to consult financial advisers. One of its essential aspects is creating a plan to save and invest in order to provide a comfortable retirement income. Ideally, this starts many years ahead of retirement, even as early as your first paycheck.
As retirement comes closer, planning for it expands to take in a host of other considerations, such as deciding when to retire, where to live, and what kind of lifestyle you hope to have. When retirement becomes a reality, the focus shifts to carrying out the plan.
All of this planning is crucial. Yet, for both financial advisers and clients, it's good to keep in mind that planning has its limits. In the post-retirement years, it may be helpful to think in terms of preparing for old age rather than planning for it.
The older we get, the more important this distinction between planning and preparing becomes. Too many life-changing things can happen without regard to our best-laid plans. Often they occur unexpectedly, resulting in emergency situations where urgent decisions have to be made. A stroke or a fall, a diagnosis of terminal illness, a broken hip that leaves someone unable to go back to independent living—and suddenly, right now, the family needs to find an assisted living facility, arrange for live-in help, or sell a home.
What are some of the ways to prepare for these contingencies?
- Explore housing options well ahead of time. Find out what assisted living, home care, and nursing home services and facilities are available where you live and whether they have waiting lists. Have family conversations about possibilities like relocating or sharing households.
- Research the financial side of these options. Investigate the cost of hiring help at home, assisted living facilities, and nursing care centers. Find out what is and is not covered by Medicare and long-term care insurance. For example, people are sometimes surprised to learn that Medicare does not pay for nursing home care other than short-term medical stays.
- Designate someone to take over decision-making, and do the paperwork. Execute documents like a living will, medical power of attorney, and contingent power of attorney. Update them as necessary, and give copies to your doctors, your financial planner, and appropriate family members.
- Start relatively early to downsize. Well before you're ready to let go of possessions or move into smaller housing, start considering what to do with your "stuff." Focus on the decisions rather than the distribution. There's no need to get rid of possessions prematurely, but decide what you want to do with them—and put in writing. Do this while it's still your choice, rather than something your family members do while you're in the hospital or nursing home
- Do your best to practice flexibility and acceptance. No matter how strongly you want to live in your own home until the end of your life, for example, it may not be possible. The physical limitations of aging can limit our choices, and even the best options available may not be what we would like them to be. It is a profound gift to yourself and your family members to accept these realities with as much grace as you can muster.
Finally, please don't underestimate the importance of planning financially for retirement. Because the bottom line is that you can't plan for all the things that might happen as you age, but you can prepare to deal with them. One of the most useful tools to cope with those contingencies is having enough money.
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