Protecting Elderly Clients

Much has been written about the vulnerability of the elderly to scams that are perpetrated on them. Because seniors are concerned about health care, con artists prey on the elderly to get them to buy fraudulent products or services. Home improvement scammers prey on the elderly by providing shoddy or unnecessary repairs. Stories about unscrupulous financial advisors are frequently in the news. Funeral homes have been known to get the elderly to spend more than they want or need. Some scammers will read the obituaries and pretend that the deceased ordered products or owed a debt to try to get money from the surviving spouse.

Very often the people preying on the elderly are relatives. Because most of us trust our relatives, it gives them an opportunity to take advantage. Children have been known to move back into the family home and physically abuse their elderly parents. They may employ emotional blackmail. They may threaten to stop visiting or calling.  They may tell their parents that not giving them money means that they don’t love them. Often a demand for money is disguised as help with bills, or presents to grandchildren.

Of course parents make gifts to children and grandchildren all the time. But there is a line beyond which it becomes clear that children are looking to get their “inheritance” early. This can lead to an impoverished parent who loses his independence, or even his home.

It can be very difficult for a concerned financial advisor to protect his client from predatory relatives.  Often the parents want give money to their children and may be unaware of the financial consequences.  As fiduciaries we have to keep in mind that our obligation is to our client; not her children, grandchildren or any other relatives. You may have to tell your client “I know you love your son, but you should not give him the house because you may need to sell it so that you can move into a senior living facility.” Of course this can create a conflict with the relatives who will not appreciate what you are doing.

At some point it may be necessary to get an attorney involved, one who specializes in elder care. This is particularly important if the heirs don’t get along. If the elderly become incapable of managing their own affairs they can assign power-of-attorney to a third party.  If the children are not competent, or if there is a conflict, appointing an attorney as the executor of the estate may be preferable to appointing a relative.

Providing financial guidance to the elderly is much more than managing their portfolio. There is often much more going on that is critical to the well-being of the client, and avoid the chance that they run out of money before they run out of time.

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