As published in the Montgomery County Estate Planning Council Spring 2017 News Letter.

For many older adults, life after retirement is busy and full of meaning. Grandkids, volunteer work, travel and hobbies keep them active, engaged and full of life. But inevitably, something happens — an illness, a fall, the death of a spouse, or even a mild cognitive decline — and life becomes more stressful and difficult. Daily tasks that were once easy to manage start to slip through the cracks. Bills go unpaid, homes fall into disrepair, and personal health and hygiene suffer.

Everyone wants to be independent for as long as possible. The goal in helping your client maintain their independence is to let them be the architect for their own plan while advocating for them before someone else is forced to intercede without their approval or direction. As trusted advisors we should encourage our clients to create a plan for how to manage the details of their lives as they age so they can spend their time and energy doing the things that are meaningful to them.

Start Early

As we age, our cognitive abilities decrease. Even older adults who are physically healthy and highly educated may start to have problems managing complex situations and tasks. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimates that about one-third of people age 65 and older report functional limitations of one kind or another. Among people age 85 or older, about two-thirds report functional limitations. More than two-thirds of 65-year-olds will need assistance to deal with a loss of functioning at some point during the remaining years of life.

Start the conversation with your client by encouraging them to set the ground rules for when to cede decision-making and management of day-to-day tasks. The trigger points that might indicate when it is the right time to do this include:

  • Difficulty keeping their checkbooks balanced and bills paid on time
  • Minor traffic accidents or fender-benders
  • Misplacing things
  • Asking the same questions over and over
  • Not remembering what they’ve been told
  • Falling victim to frauds, email phishing schemes or phone scams
  • Letting their home go into disrepair

The time to plan is, ideally, before problems like these manifest themselves. However, if the signs of functional decline are already there, it is vital to encourage your client to make decisions before their limitations progress.

The earlier you start the conversation with your clients, the more easily they will be able to transition to having outside help, the more control they will have over decisions made, and the longer they will be able to live independently.

Start Small

Make sure your clients know that they don’t have to relinquish every aspect of their life to someone else. Sometimes, having help with one small task will help your clients realize how they can benefit from having assistance. Often, just having an extra set of eyes and ears or a guiding hand is all it takes for your clients to continue living independently without becoming overwhelmed, stressed or in trouble.

In some cases, children or other family members may be the best source of assistance. In other cases, it may be best to recommend a reliable and compassionate professional to help manage tasks such as:

  • Sorting and reviewing mail
  • Paying bills and balancing checkbooks
  • Decluttering and storing household items
  • Medical appointment scheduling, paperwork and claims
  • Settling estates
  • Home and property maintenance schedules
  • Shopping for food and necessities
  • Transportation to appointments or social engagements
  • Housekeeping, meal preparation and laundry

The best form of assistance comes from someone who will adapt their services to the client’s preferred way of doing things. If Mr. Broadmoor is used to paying his bills with paper checks and keeping a paper-based checkbook, forcing him into online checking and bill paying may give him the feeling of losing control. The best person to help your client will be more than a good service provider. He or she will be a good listener as well, connecting in a way that works best for the client.

Be Realistic and Compassionate

Expect some initial resistance when broaching the subject with your client. Many people do not want to discuss planning for the end of life. This conversation is not about the end of life but rather how a person wants to live their life to their full potential. If you are having this conversation with a client that is already showing signs of failing, remember that no one wants to feel as if they aren’t capable. Approach the situation with a blend of compassion and a sense of reality. Help them understand they are not losing power and control. Instead, they are gaining security and freedom.

Protect Their Assets and Their Independence

We are in the business of protecting clients’ financial assets. Because today’s affluent older adults are living longer than ever, those assets — homes, property, savings accounts, investments — can be substantial. They need protection and nurturing to stay healthy and grow.

As trusted advisors, we should also be in the business of protecting clients’ life assets — their relationships, hobbies, interests and independence — so they also stay healthy and grow. You can further build the bond you have with your clients by looking at the bigger picture and addressing their personal needs as well as their financial ones. Help them live their lives rather than simply planing for the end of life.