Have you ever had a stubborn older client who told you he’d never talk about his assets with anyone but you? He doesn’t think he’ll ever need help in his life and he wants to be in charge. When you suggest a family meeting to let someone else know what to do in case he ever became ill and unable to communicate, he shuts you down. This is all too common.
A consistent obstacle to communication we see in our work is the resistance of the older person to discuss finances with anyone, including their adult children or other heirs. The Great Depression led to secrecy about finances for many, as fortunes were lost sometimes overnight and once proud people became impoverished. Talking openly about money was just not done for those who grew up in this time of widespread devastating and sometimes life-ending financial losses. To this segment of our population, openly discussing money was considered rude, unseemly. Some of these Depression-era survivors remain reluctant to tell anyone in their families where their accounts are, what their assets are and what they want done with their assets in the event of incapacity.
Presumably when you have a long-term relationship with your client, she trusts you and trusts your judgment. That gives you leverage. You may know more about her finances than her family, her friends or anyone in her life. You are charged with the task of long range planning and you look ahead. In doing so, it is up to you to urge your client, gently, repeatedly and with ongoing persistence that she find someone she can trust to appoint to protect her if she has an accident, falls ill, or can’t speak for herself.
Sometimes persistence pays. The power of your relationship is a tool to persuade your client to come around. This is not a situation to ignore just because your client resists. The older she is, the more there is at risk. Anything can happen to her health at any time.
If your client resists, we encourage you to repeat your requesting a week or a month. Do it in a tactful way and paint a verbal picture for her of what would happen if she were no longer able to speak for herself. Tell her how frustrating it would be to have to refer her account to your legal department for a decision about getting a court involved if she could no longer communicate. Tell her how upset that would make you feel. Express your own concerns and make it your problem.
We hope that every single person in your book of business has an appointed trusted other for you to contact. You may well need that and it can be up to you to urge your client to take care of that most important piece of legal business, the Durable Power of Attorney, if she has not done this. Diminished capacity can sneak up on your client and you’ll need help.
It’s a new role you have with the oldest clients. They are living longer than they thought they would and with longevity come the risks of impairment in all ways.
If you’d like to take a little deeper dive into managing clients with diminished capacity, you can get a lot of expertise in a one hour online course by clicking here.
By Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Elder Law Attorney