Most financial advisors with aging clients often find themselves in the dilemma of just how involved they should get when it comes to their clients.
You talk with them for portfolio reviews, but what if they show signs of diminished capacity in those conversations? Should you meet with them to talk about it or just wait until “something happens”? A critical point that every financial advisor needs to know: if your older client shows signs of mental decline, something is already happening. You don’t have the luxury of waiting. Research makes it clear that the ability to manage finances is the first thing to go downhill when a person begins to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. There could be other reasons for cognitive decline too. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring it.
At AgingInvestor.com we recently heard a story that reinforces the importance of staying vigilant for your aging clients. Penny is 93 and until recently, the professionals in her life saw no particular reason to be concerned about her mental status. She was usually clear in conversation. Her accountant thought she was ok but failed to see mistakes and changes. But Penny was managing seven separate real estate investments and no one in her family, particularly her son, was helping her. Her son may have thought she was fully capable. She had been successful for decades. No one anticipated that she might become impaired late in life. But then her lawyer, living in a different city, wanted her to sign a document and have it notarized. She got confused and insisted that it be done incorrectly. The document came back a mess. Her lawyer did not heed these red flags that something was wrong and thought Penny was probably ok. He attributed the error to “normal” forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is a warning sign that closer monitoring of the older person needs to start right away.
Penny’s son eventually got her to a doctor who wrote a letter with the opinion that Penny was no longer able to manage her personal and financial affairs. Her son began taking over managing the property but was not prepared for what he found. Of the seven real estate holdings, five had IRS liens! One had become uninhabitable, the tenant had moved out and was billing Penny for the hotel stay, waiting for the home to be fixed. Penny had failed to pay the property taxes for several years.
Penny is a good example of a senior who is generally pretty clear but is definitely not able to handle complex finances any longer. The process of her cognitive decline did not happen overnight. It took several years. During that time she endangered her assets, lost track of her finances and could have lost most of her real estate to tax liens. Warning signs happened but no one paid attention to them.
Could this be prevented?
Of course. Had her financial advisor kept a better eye on all of Penny’s assets, not just her stock account, he could have noticed the problem and contacted her son. The point is that wealthy clients may have assets you do not manage but also provide income. It is good practice to ask about all of your client’s holdings. Penny’s failure to pay property taxes and allowing the houses to fall into disrepair should have been seen by those close to her. Paying attention to those telltale signs of decline, which an alert advisor would have noticed, should have triggered reaching out to Penny’s trusted contact person. Working with your clients’ families is key to protecting their financial safety.
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