Do you have older clients who seem to be doing really well physically? Some of our aging folks are remarkably sharp and we can all be lulled into a false sense of security with them. This is a heads up warning about a real situation that you can perhaps help clients avoid by a simple step. Bear in mind that your older clients may be alert but still have trouble keeping track of the occasional bill. That can lead to a true financial disaster. Here’s what happened to one person we met at AgingInvestor.com who could well be your client.

Ruth is 88, still quite independent, taking care of herself at home. She does her own shopping and cooking, drives and pays her own bills. Great at her age, right? But when it comes to memory, that’s a problem from time to time. And forgetfulness plus an unforeseen glitch caused a financial nightmare for her. Here is what happened.

Ruth has Medicare and supplemental insurance. That extra 20% the supplement pays doesn’t sound like a lot, unless you have a crisis and have to go to the hospital.

Ruth paid her bills by check each month. But sometimes her mail carrier made mistakes and put envelopes in the wrong box. That’s just what happened with Ruth’s supplemental insurance bill. She didn’t pay the bill one month because she never got it. That was the glitch. Unfortunately that is exactly the month that she had a major health crisis and had to be hospitalized. She never knew that her supplemental insurer had missed a premium payment from her until they denied payment to the hospital for the amount due after Medicare paid the hospital in full. She was very upset and called them but they brushed her off when she told them what happened. She had never paid late nor had she ever missed a payment. They didn’t care. Her bill for the amount Medicare didn’t cover was over $80,000. They flatly refused to pay it.

She tried to call again and again but got nowhere. She sent a letter but received no response. Ruth’s case is not the first time we’ve seen a situation when an older person fails to pay an insurance premium notice either because of illness, dementia, not receiving the bill or other valid reason. Some companies will allow reinstatement of coverage when the amount owed is paid in full. But Ruth’s former insurer has been horrible; clearly to get out of the large bill they would have had to pay. They’re probably happy about it but of course Ruth is distraught.

Now imagine that Ruth is your client. Most write checks by hand for paying bills, as they have done all their adult lives. Lots of people in their 80s don’t use a computer or are only able to do so with many limitations. They don’t use auto debit for paying bills automatically.

There is one thing you, the advisor, can do to prevent a disaster like Ruth’s. Work with your aging client and their family to get them set up so that payments for ongoing, recurring expenses are auto debited from a bank account. This applies most especially to insurance premiums. As long as you are overseeing the finances for these older clients, think about this simple preventive strategy you can urge them to use to protect their financial safety. Sometimes no one thinks of it. Sometimes the family is also lulled into a false sense of security because the elder is so independent in other ways. Bill paying is a vulnerability and you can think of measures to make it less so.

That medical bill coming to a client because of a simple error, forgetfulness, or glitch can be a source of extreme stress. Take the time now to talk with your client about the prospect of auto pay for all of their recurring bills. Even if they are unsure of how to set it up, a family member, a friend or money manager can offer to do this for them. It’s a small, basic measure but hugely helpful to prevent financial loss

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