If you have clients in their 80s, then you’re undoubtedly familiar with end-of-life financial planning issues. To name a few: the client’s continuing needs for retirement income; transferring wealth to heirs in a tax-efficient manner; and accounting for the impact of health care spending on the client’s assets.
Add to this list one variable that could overshadow all others and, if not handled correctly, upend a plan and even threaten your practice: a decline in the client’s cognitive abilities.
At the 2015 annual meeting of the Financial Planning Association on Sunday, September 27, the topic received a full airing before a full-capacity crowd. Speaker Robert Mauterstock, a certified financial planner and principal of Gift of Communication, outlined during the one-hour workshop seven steps for protecting yourself, your practice and clients who have diminished mental capacity.
Mauterstock described the fast-growing population of seniors over age 85 as a budding crises because so many of them will suffer debilitating cognitive issues that the nation — and many advisors — are ill prepared to deal with.
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“If you have children or grandchildren under the age of 5, it’s very likely that more than half of them will live beyond age 100,” said Mauterstock. “The nation’s fastest growing demographic group comprises the very old, or those over age 85.
“But there’s a catch,” he added. “The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that 46 percent of people who live over age 85, will have some form of dementia. We’re facing a perfect storm.”
Mauterstock cited a Fidelity Investments study showing that more than 8 in 10 advisors (84 percent) want help addressing the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on their practices. High on the list of concerns: the prospect of a lawsuit, as happened in 2012, when an agent for Allianz Life, Glenn Neasham, was charged with financial elder abuse after selling an annuity to a senior who, a court later determined, was suffering from dementia.
The seven steps
To help you avoid a similar fate, and do well by your older clients, Mauterstock advised that you do the following:
Step 1: Recognize behavioral changes
Key indicators of the onset of dementia, said Mauterstock, are personality changes. Example: A normally cheerful client who becomes irritable, depressed or anxious. He or she may also have trouble following instructions, recognizing members of your staff or remembering discussion points from a previous conversation.
Step 2: Develop a diminished capacity checklist
If you’re uncertain as to a client’s mental health and competency to make financial decisions, the prudent thing to do is to draw up a checklist of observed behaviors and compare with symptoms associated with cognitive decline. Common signs of ALZ that stand out in a financial planning engagement, for example, include a diminished ability to follow a recommended plan, work with numbers or adhere to a budget.
The individual may also have difficulty following a conversation or, over the course of one, stop in mid-sentence, or reprise a point as if for the first time. Alternatively, said Mauterstock, the client may show evidence of poor or declining judgment.