Eldercare: Sense And Sensibility
Handling the heated emotions of planning for the aging.
By Ben Mattlin
By now, everybody knows the aging population makes eldercare a top
priority. But what may come as a surprise is the hotbed of emotionalism it typically releases.
“We have to be
95% psychologists,” says Diane Pearson of Legend Financial Advisors in Pittsburgh. “If you don’t understand
your client from a psychological standpoint, you can’t answer certain questions that come up.”
FAs aren’t trained psychologists. So how do you manage—or learn to manage better—the intangibles of eldercare
A good first step, says Michael Kay of Financial
Focus in Livingston, N.J., and author of The Business of Life, is “be fully cognizant of where you yourself are mentally.”
other words, try to exude calm. Write an agenda before any meetings, even if you don’t ordinarily. “The biggest
mistake an advisor can make is to let a difficult meeting devolve into a kind of open-ended discussion,” Kay cautions.
degree of flexibility is OK. Planning for “a 65-year-old with dementia and no other medical complications,” says
Michael Coler, co-executive director of The Kenwood by Senior Star in Cincinnati, is clearly different from a discussion about
“a 90-year-old with lung cancer, diabetes and hypertension.”
a Tight Focus
Given that, it’s good to know as much background as you can beforehand. Start family meetings by
asking if anyone has a burning question. “Write it on a whiteboard and promise to get to it before the meeting adjourns
so it doesn’t become a distraction,” recommends Kay.
It’s also prudent to announce how long the meeting
will last—typically, one or two hours. Stick to it, but don’t be too rigid. “Don’t hurry the conversation
or jump to conclusions,” asserts Judith McGee of Portland, Ore.-based McGee Financial Services, an office of Raymond
James Financial Services. “There’s usually a family history to tell.”
fact, try to limit the number of participants to six at any one time, she adds, and use large type whenever possible. “It’s
all about how you communicate,” agrees Julie Murphy Casserly, an independent financial planner in Chicago and author
of The Emotion Behind Money.
Looking and listening, however,
are equally important. “Someone whose arms and legs are crossed is probably not completely engaged in the conversation,”
says Kay. “I’ll ask that person, ‘How are you feeling about this?’”
making eye contact is likely receptive. Leaning forward indicates attentiveness, leaning back signals withdrawal. “These
gestures typically convey what’s going on inside,” maintains Mitchell Kauffman at Kauffman Wealth Services, a
Santa Barbara and Pasadena, Calif.-based advisor for Raymond James.
Be a Moderator
doesn’t have to be a guessing game, though. Taking a leaf from a psychotherapist’s playbook, Kauffman advises,
“Reflect and rephrase what you hear in a non-accusatory way. ... If something’s especially heated or unclear,
I’ll say, ‘Let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is—.’”
To be sure,
you might have to read between the lines. “Many times when people talk about money, it’s not actually about money,”
explains David Keator of the Keator Group, a Lenox, Mass.-based wealth manager. A persistent need for extra cash, for example,
could reflect a yearning insecurity—or a hidden addiction. “You have to be astute to tell the difference, and
know when to refer clients to a non-financial resource,” says Keator.
Naturally, most FAs are familiar with emotionalism.
“Emotion underlies all financial decisions,” says Stephen Horan, head of private wealth management at the CFA
Institute in Charlottesville, Va.
But if it takes some coaxing to get clients or family members to open up, try “sharing
anonymous third-party stories,” suggests Brent Bayes, a CPA and marketing director for Las Ventanas Retirement Community,
in Las Vegas. “Hearing how others have done their planning or reacted in a certain situation helps bring things into
With any family interaction, old sibling
rivalries can become a big issue. Nothing makes adults revert to childhood roles faster than a family reunion—and when
money is involved, the sparks can really fly.
“Resentments between siblings are issues we, as advisors, cannot
manage, but we can anchor everyone to the key message, which is: This money needs to first make sure mom is cared for,”
insists Matt Zagula, president of the Estate and Elder Planning Center in Weirton, W.Va.
It might not be easy. “Financial
advisors often feel they have to solve everything,” observes Keith Klovee-Smith, Olympia, Wash.-based national manager
of Wells Fargo Private Banking’s Elder Services Program. He suggests advisors express compassion—saying something
like, “It sounds like that’s been difficult, and I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with it.” “But,”
he adds, “we can do nothing about the past or fix old hurts. … Often we just have to acknowledge somebody’s
Key, then, is a mix of empathy and humility. “Advisors must recognize their own limitations,”
concurs Lisa Osofsky, a financial planner at WeiserMazars in Evanston, N.J.
hot-button issue is parental incapacity. Often one child—usually a daughter—volunteers to help. Sometimes too
much. “Being a caregiver is extremely rewarding but also very difficult,” notes Jayne Sallerson at Emeritus Senior
Living in Seattle. She cites short-term in-home assistance, respite care in an assisted-living community, and adult day care
as good resources for helping caregivers. Overworking, she emphasizes, “impacts the well-being of caregivers and the
senior in their care.”
Beyond that, siblings should help. “The family caregiver needs to know that the
other siblings are available,” says James Moniz, president of Northeast Wealth Management in Braintree, Mass. The advisor,
he adds, should talk to all family members about their “roles and responsibilities.”
Be careful, however,
about paying family caregivers. “Disqualification for government benefits can result if compensation is not done correctly,”
cautions Yale Hauptman, an eldercare attorney at Hauptman & Hauptman in Livingston, N.J.
Appreciation can be expressed,
too, with non-cash tokens such as the family silver or another prized heirloom.
If physical caretaking is onerous, dementia can be devastating—and not just to family members.
FAs are often “the first to see decline in their clients,” comments Ted Sarenski, president and CEO of Blue Ocean
Strategic Capital in Syracuse, N.Y. “A competent advisor would suggest the client’s spouse or children be brought
along to the next meeting.”
It’s best to establish a course of action ahead of any emergency, of course.
“Just as family business succession will be more successful with an articulated plan, so will the challenges of eldercare,”
says Lee Hausner, Ph.D. and senior managing director at First Foundation Advisors in Irvine, Calif.
But when dealing
with intellectual competence, consider a geriatric-care manager. “When a financial person senses something’s changing,
a problem that’s not going to be a slam dunk, he or she should bring in a clinical professional,” says Claudia
Fine, executive vice president and chief professional officer at Senior Bridge, a New York-based care-management company.
Clients may need “a clinical evaluation and/or intervention,” she argues.
Other times, just having a clinical
professional in meetings with your client is valuable.
Other Outside Experts
a team approach is ideal. “Financial advisors simply cannot be great at everything,” says Wendy Boglioli, a Seattle-based
long-term-care specialist for Genworth Financial.
The team will doubtless include an eldercare attorney to draft key
documents. But others are useful, too. “I often have another advisor from my office sit in to make sure we catch everything,”
confides Andrew Riggle, a financial planner at Hanover, Pa.-based Riggle & Associates. “I position myself as the
quarterback or point person who either brings in [other] specialists or coordinates the specialists my client already has.”
such as the Society of Certified Senior Advisors (800-653-1785, www.csa.us) also offer special training. “You can gain valuable insights on working with seniors,” says Peter Ross, co-founder
and CEO of Senior Helpers, a Towson, Md.-based national provider of care assistance.
Generally, full disclosure within the family is best. “Some parents tell only their favorite
children certain things and keep secrets from the rest. That’s when you’re going to have a headache,” stresses
Ellis Liddell, president of ELE Wealth Management in Southfield, Mich.
You want to keep all family members on the same
page—literally. “One client has me send a letter every year to his children telling them how much he has given
to each ... and what impact these gifts will have when he dies,” says Gary Altman, an attorney at Altman & Associates
in the Washington, D.C., metro area.
Such transparency “reduces stress,” observes Steven Pagartanis, owner
and president of Omega Planning in East Setauket, N.Y. “It helps people feel more empowered and have less anxiety.”
the other hand, you can’t reveal information without permission. “Each relationship requires and is entitled to
client confidentiality,” says Mac McGrew, Atlanta-based wealth advisor and senior vice president at The Harrison McGrew
Group of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. “I have an obligation to my firm as well,” he adds, noting that certain
issues will require management advisement.
Keeping a Cool Head
all this can become overwhelming for even the most seasoned. “You tell your clients the pros and cons of their choices,”
says Ronald Duswalt, a Uniondale, N.Y.-based financial planner with Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. and Hornor, Townsend &
Kent, “but you can’t make them do the right thing.”
If you’re worrying too much about your
client, that “may be a telltale sign you’re beginning to lose objectivity,” asserts David Harmon of AXA
Advisors in Wellesley, Mass. “Try to remain objective … and not get pulled into dysfunctional family interactions.
… The last thing you want is to be accused by a disgruntled family member of exerting undue influence.”
turn to counseling. “There’s nothing wrong with professionals seeking advice from other professionals,”
points out East Providence, R.I.-based Rick Petrucci of Baystate Financial Services.
The alternatives could be disastrous.
“The trick is to understand how to prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed,” says Debra Kleesattel, Ph.D., director
of operations at St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Humana Cares.
Despite the emotionality, one thing is paramount. “The client comes first. No exceptions,”
maintains A.J. Sohn at Antaeus Wealth Advisors in Boxborough, Mass.
Indeed, eldercare is “a specialization,”
says David Okrent, an elder-law attorney in Dix Hills, N.Y. If you can’t hack it, you’d better “seek assistance
from an advisor who does,” he says.