Advice for advisors working with elderly clients, Pt. 2: Put your client's needs first
By F Hale Stewart, JD, LLM, CAM, CWM, CTEP
The Law Office of Hale Stewart
I anticipate financial firms developing comprehensive programs for their agents or representatives to give them better guidance on dealing with elderly clients. Until then, use your common sense and, most importantly, put your client’s needs first.
In my last article, I highlighted some general practices all professionals who deal with the elderly should engage in that will help to minimize their risk. Today, I want to add to that discussion.
Let me begin with this. There are two events that should be the absolute last resort for an elderly client or their family, even those with some type of cognitive impairment: a guardianship preceding or a will challenge.
A guardianship preceding is where a court or some form of legal tribunal determines if an individual is in some way unable to take care of themselves — usually because of dementia or Alzheimer’s. No good comes of these events. The person being examined by the court is usually aware enough to understand what is occurring, while family members are forced to disclose very personal and perhaps embarrassing information in public.
A will challenge occurs for a variety of reasons. In my previous article, I recalled a time when an elderly gentleman who appeared to have some type of moderate impairment — and who already had an estate plan — approached me about writing another will. I declined representation, thinking that I would be walking right into a will challenge.
I was concerned that eventually my plan would be challenged by a family member who would argue that the deceased was impaired when the plan was written. Like guardianship proceedings, no good comes from most will challenges.
So, what can we, as service providers with an older client, do for help prevent problems from occurring or the above two situations from happening?
First, consider enlisting the services of an elderly service provider — someone who acts as the quarterback for an impaired person’s life. These people are usually aware of medical insurance issues and elderly service providers such as nursing services and retirement communities.
They also have savvy inter-personal skills that allow them to manage relationships well. Their role is to help plan schedules, drive people to and from appointments, arrange for more serious medical events and in general coordinate the other services for the individual.
Second, enlist an accountant or bill pay service to monitor finances. Having an individual who pays bills and helps to balance a checking account can prevent the individual from paying bills twice — or not paying bills at all. Third, make sure the impaired individual has an unlisted phone number to prevent them from being the victim of fraud or theft. Individuals with dementia are targets for scam artists. Do everything you can to help them fly below the radar.
Fourth, counsel that the individual should get an “authorization to disclose protected health information” as part of their estate plan. These documents allow specific individuals to talk with doctors and other medical professionals. This allows the doctor to communicate with an individual who is not impaired, which can aid in treatment.
Fifth, find out who the other service providers are and communicate with them. If you are not bound by confidentiality, find out who the other professionals are in the client’s life and at minimum, reach out to them so they know who you are. At most, communicate via email and text to let others know what you see happening or to tell of an incident others might need to know about. Also reach out to family members to aid in their dealings with the situation.
As the population gets older, arrangements such as those above will become more and more routine. Frankly, I anticipate financial firms developing comprehensive programs for their agents or representatives to give them better guidance. Until then, use your common sense and, most importantly, put your client’s needs first.