In the November issue of Senior Market Advisor, we take an in-depth look at the damage Alzheimer’s causes individuals, families, caregivers and even our entire health-care-related economy.
As I think about this debilitating, cognitive disease, the question that continues to stare back at me from the page is this — what is the role financial advisors can play in counseling aging clients who may be exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia?
Many of you reading this column know the Glenn Neasham story. If you don’t, in short, Neasham sold an annuity to a woman who was later diagnosed with dementia. Years after the sale, Neasham was convicted of “felony theft from an elder” in California Superior Court and, initially, sentenced to 300 days in jail. In October, The Appellate Court of California reversed the Neasham conviction.
On many levels, the Neasham case was as important to the insurance and financial industry as it was to the agent involved. Had the initial ruling stuck, it would have been the tip of the iceberg for the industry. We have enough litigation in this country (most everyone without a JD behind their name would argue too much) and don’t need the additional tsunami of consumers firing up legal complaints about the handling of their elderly family member — whether founded in fact or not.
Before you rush to judge any position I may have regarding the Neasham case, let me say right here, right now: I am not a lawyer and I’m not going to play one here. To me, legal briefs sound like correctional facility-issued underwear. I’ll leave legal analysis of the Neasham case and any additional fallout to industry organizations such as FSP, AALU, LIDMA, NAFA, NAHU and NAILBA, who supported Neasham and the greater financial services industry in this case.
A positive role to play
Instead, I am here to talk about the positive role advisors can play for their aging and ailing clients. I spoke with Dallas-based advisor Mark Pruitt, who has confronted Alzheimer’s with both clients and family members, to glean his insight on advisors and the disease.
“To me there’s a huge elephant in the room in this industry,” says Pruitt. With so many aging clients and with more than 5 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s, Pruitt says advisors need to become aware of the disease and educate themselves on it so they can help the families they serve.
“There are basic documents that need to be covered before it’s too late. There’s power of attorney for finance, power of attorney for medical, guardianship, a living will.”
Pruitt says if these aren’t covered ahead of a diagnosis, it opens a whole other set of legal worries for a family. Essentially, he tells clients: “You can take care of these basic estate issues now, one time, or you’re going to stand in front of a judge every year with your records, having to prove your case that you can are competent to handle legal matters for your loved one. And, if you fail to meet the judge’s threshold, he’ll appoint a guardian for your loved one.”
Pruitt says that if an advisor is “too worried about big sales, you’re going to miss that opportunity to get these things taken care of for your client. Really, it’s the difference between building transactional relationships and transformational relationships.”
As Pruitt states, these basic estate-planning tools may not gain the immediate big commission sale but what they do is build bonds for future generations of clients, as the aging client refers you to their kids and grandkids, not to mention their extended network of family and friends.
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