As just about everyone was outraged and offended by Donald Sterling’s racist comments, you might wonder how there could be anything to learn from what he said and did in the time that has passed since his story first broke.
To some people, Donald Sterling seemed rational.  A horrible racist, but being that way in control of his faculties and choosing to do what he did.   Was there something wrong with him or was he just being his racist and unreasonable self?  I think his conduct is a good example of how a cognitively impaired person can seem logical and in control one minute and totally out of control the next. And he is an example of how an impaired person can destroy his chances, make bad decisions and have a massive loss.  You just might find yourself with a client like that.
Here’s what I mean.  Donald Sterling’s comments led to his wife insisting that he be examined by two doctors, psychologists.  Both concluded that he had Alzheimer’s Disease. When you saw Sterling on TV, you might have thought, “well, he seems weird, but he apparently knows what he’s doing”.  Did he?
A person with Alzheimer’s lacks judgment about finances. That issue was at the very heart of the case when he agreed to sell the L.A. Clippers, and then changed his mind and tried to block the sale in a court battle with his wife.  Some might be skeptical about the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.  After all, two billion dollars was at stake and fights over anything that big can bring up just about anything.
But notice this:  if you want to win in court, you are going to put on your best behavior.  If a judge is looking at you to make a decision about whether you are financially competent or not, you’re not going to do anything that would lead the judge, holding enormous power with his decision, to rule against you.  That’s what a reasonable person with ordinary good judgment would do. Even if you’re mad as hell, you’re not going to lose it and prove to the judge just how out of control you are. But lose it is exactly what Sterling did with his chance in court.
Imagine that someone with that much money would hire the most highly skilled  lawyers possible.  Imagine that they were ready with all possible evidence to refute the allegations of Sterling’s wife that Donald was not competent.  And what did he do? He behaved erratically over several days of testimony.  He raised his voice at his own lawyers and those opposing him. He called his wife a “pig” in court.  In other words, he could not exercise enough good judgment to do what any reasonable person would do in his circumstance.  H could not rein in his impulses. He blew it.
Of course, the judge ruled against him.  He was found to be incompetent to make a decision to stop the sale of the Clippers and his wife won out.
The lesson here is that people who have dementia, the major symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease, lose their judgment about finances.  They may make bad decisions against your advice. They may behave erratically. They may act out one minute and be apparently fine the next.  When you have a client who has a history and a pattern of making certain kinds of choices about how to invest his money, and he begins to divert from that, you know it is a red flag that something may be wrong.  You know that he could lose his wealth if this keeps up.  What are you supposed to do?
Other than escalating the problem to compliance sooner or later, you may not think there are any choices. But we at believe there are choices about how you are going to approach and deal with these problematic clients, whether they are as extreme as Donald Sterling or not.  There are options for anticipating the realistic possibility that your clients who are aging are going to become cognitively impaired.  You can create innovative policies to manage them in a proactive way, involving family, involving significant others, and complying with privacy considerations.  You don’t have to fire the client and lose the assets under management. If you have a clear path that enables you to take protective action and engage a third party whom the client has identified and appointed far in advance, you may be able to work with the appointed person and continue to carry out the wishes and philosophy of your client even if he becomes impaired.  We are here to help you craft those policies and we empower you to implement them. 
This process can change and disrupt the old, outmoded ways of dealing with our aging investors. It’s radical. It’s different.  We think it should be done.  If you would like to explore this for yourself or your organization, contact us today at for a preview.  We will help you become a change agent and an innovator.
Until next time,
Carolyn Rosenblatt


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