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The Advisor’s Role With Your Older Client’s Successor Trustee


The Advisor’s Role With Your Older Client’s Successor Trustee

Most advisors understand that your aging clients have done estate planning and that at least some of their assets are in a family trust.

If you have never discussed this state plan and trust with any client 65 and up, it’s a necessity. Why?

Every person is at risk, at some point for losing the capacity to do the job of managing that family trust. The risk rises directly with aging. No matter how healthy and competent your client may be right now, and no matter how educated about finances, the risk remains. No one is immune. There could be a stroke, heart attack or other disabling illness that renders the client unable to do the tasks necessary for making financial decisions. And that most dreaded of all diseases, Alzheimer’s can sneak up on anyone, with the chances of it being especially bad for a person 85 and up. Did you know that the odds of having Alzheimer’s disease are about one in three, at least, by age 85? It’s downright scary.

Here is what every advisor needs to know about your client’s appointed successor on the trust: you have to meet that person and establish a relationship with him or her. Otherwise, you will be groping in the dark if an emergency or cognitive impairment happens to your client.

When is the right time to find out who the successor trustee is if you don’t already know? We recommend bringing up the subject at or near retirement. Your client is very unlikely to say to you, “Hey advisor, I’m retiring soon and we’d best discuss what happens if I lose my marbles”. Not a chance of that, so we suggest you take the lead.

Here are the points that your client may resist, but that you need to bring up and some suggested ways to do that. This is a script you might use:

  1. At retirement, we all need to take a look at the long run, and how we could age. It is possible that any of us could become physically or mentally disabled at some point in the future. I need to know which people you trust and have appointed to take over for you in the event of an emergency or disability.
  2. Let’s talk about the last time your estate plan was reviewed or updated. Are you still comfortable with the person you appointed to be your successor trustee? If so, I need to meet him/her at least by phone. In case of emergency, I need to be able to discuss your portfolio with your appointee.
  3. As a responsible person, I’m sure you would not want to leave managing your portfolio to chance should you have an accident or disabling illness. I need to get your written permission to communicate with your estate planning attorney and your successor trustee. I have a sample letter here for you to sign, granting that permission to me in case of emergency or illness. Does this look all right to you?

Related: Have the Regulators Failed in Helping Prevent Financial Abuse?

You can learn more about best practices with your aging clients at where we cover the gamut of things you are likely to see. Get your Ten Red Flags of Diminished Capacity Checklist here.

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