As you stay in the financial advising business for a time, you will surely see more aging clients. People are living longer than ever in history. They are part of your practice now or they will be soon enough. With aging come risks: cognitive decline, physical limitations and the need for care that can get very expensive. Will diminished capacity make your client vulnerable to abuse? Can you help protect your client by taking proactive steps right now?
You want to be of service, but you don’t want to go overboard and become someone’s social worker. What can you do to ensure your clients’ safety and well being as they age?
Here are five tips for the conscious advisor who knows your client beyond managing the money.
First, ask your client if she has done her estate planning, which should include appointing a trustworthy person to be her agent on a durable power of attorney and advance healthcare directive. Some have not gotten around to doing the estate planning, which can be a very expensive mistake. They want to wait “until I get old”. Some elders haven’t looked at these documents in decades. Things may have changed. Know some competent estate lawyers and give your client some referrals in her area if she hasn’t updated anything or if she hasn’t done the job of estate planning at all yet. Unfortunately, we know that most Americans haven’t gotten around to getting even these basics done.
Second, encourage your client to open the discussion with his heirs about the estate, the funds you manage, his investment philosophy and goals. It is an unfair burden on the adult child or children who must take over the reins when Dad loses independence if they have no preparation. Expecting them to navigate financial responsibilities when they start out knowing zero about Dad’s money is risky at best and disastrous at worst. Support the client getting over the secrecy-about-money idea. It only leads to distress near the end of life or after he’s gone. You can facilitate the family discussion. Be a leader.
Third, encourage your client to plan for the possibility of needing long term care. Most of us need help as we age. Very few people remain totally independent until the end with all the basics of daily life, like shopping, cooking, bathing and walking. A part time helper at home gets very expensive and Medicare doesn’t pay for it at all. Work with your aging clients to think ahead and set assets aside for this specific purpose.
Fourth, know the resources available in your client’s community where you can send them for answers to questions you can’t give them. Where can they find out about senior services? What if they don’t have any children? How can they get help at home? Which Medicare plan is best? A great place to start is the Area Agency on Aging, funded initially by the Older Americans Act, a Federal Law. Find out the local number in your client’s area and hand it out to anyone who has a need for services and direction. If they have no children, connect them with resources to locate a licensed and experienced fiduciary.
Fifth, watch for telltale signs of financial abuse. The world is loaded with scammers waiting to take advantage of vulnerable elders. Trusting seniors are ripped off every day, sometimes having life savings wiped out. Know the signs, and know cognitive impairment red flags. When a person’s mind begins to decline with dementia or memory loss, she needs a watchful eye on her finances. You can report abuse, you can contact concerned family and you need not stand by helplessly. A proactive senior-specific policy will guide you as to the right steps to take when you see loss of capacity in an aging client.
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