Do Your Clients Go Home for the Holidays?
Use these 12 tips to build stronger ties with your clients and help them take better care of their parents.
November 14, 2011
According to Luise Warren, a Geriatric Care Manager (GCM), it happens every year just after the Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas holidays — a spike in calls to her offices in the western suburbs of Chicago. The reasons for the calls are simple. Adult children coming home for a holiday notice that their parents are struggling either physically, cognitively or both. These changes are not easy to miss especially when there have been long gaps in between visits.
The cognitive difficulties may result in financial problems as the parents become forgetful or begin to lose their ability to plan their finances. This may raise financial abuse fears as the parent becomes susceptible to scams. Physical problems include a drastic loss of weight. The children may also notice that their parent shuffles more than before and appears unsteady when walking, increasing the risk of a fall.
The time just before the holidays is a good time for CPA/PFS practitioners to raise these issues with clients who have elderly parents. If the client is going home for a visit there are a variety of things they can look out for and, if necessary, discuss with their parents. By making the recommendations outlined below, practitioners can build strong ties with their clients.
Of course, going home for the holidays can be traumatic enough without layering on issues related to the parent’s apparent loss of physical or cognitive abilities. Families also differ in their willingness to talk about the issues raised here. Many parents refuse to talk about their finances with their children or admit they are having physical problems. That said, these challenges can be severe enough that they cannot be ignored. Rather than raise concerns during the visit, your client may merely note them for later discussion. Some can take the extra step of calling a GCM to discuss their concerns and ask whether an assessment can be done to ascertain what the next steps should be.
But what should your clients look for when they are home? What other issues should they raise while home? While not exhaustive, there are signs about the parent’s physical or cognitive condition that can be seen if your client looks carefully.
Telltale Signs of Physical Problems
Signs of Cognitive Problems
Recent research has found that “Impairment of financial capacity usually occurs very early in the course of cognitive impairment at a time when both patients and family members may be largely unaware of encroaching deficits in financial skill.” (Finances in the Older Patient With Cognitive Impairment, Journal of the American Medical Association, February 2011). On a visit home, adult children should check to see if there are stacks of unopened mail on the desk. A large stack may indicate that bills are not being paid on time. To approach the topic, your clients can raise, for example, the topic of the ease of bill paying online. If the parent usually gives checks as gifts, look for any errors there may be on the check itself.
Other tips include:
Being home for the holidays may also give your clients the chance to discuss or observe:
The objective here is not to ruin the holidays or create family tension (well, any more tension than is already there). The goal here is to increase the adult children’s awareness of their parent’s well being. Dealing with one or two of the issues raised during a trip home may be as much as your client and parent can handle. The important thing is for your client to observe and note any problems they see. As long as the matter isn’t urgent, they can wait until later to raise the topic during a less hectic time of the year.
Clients appreciate when CPA/PFS practitioners make an extra effort for their clients. The discussion can be part of the questions advisors ask their clients regarding whether a parent may become a financial dependent. These efforts can create stronger ties with clients and make clients more willing to refer friends and family members to you.
James Sullivan, CPA, PFS, works with his wife, Janet, who is an elder law attorney in Naperville, IL.
* The AICPA’s PFP Section provides information, tools, advocacy and guidance to CPAs who specialize in providing tax, retirement, estate, risk management and investment advice to individuals and their closely held entities. PFP Section members, including PFS credential holders will benefit from additional resources on this topic in Forefield Advisor on the AICPA’s PFP website at aicpa.org/pfp. All members of the AICPA are eligible to join the PFP section. For CPAs who want to demonstrate their expertise in this subject matter, apply to become a PFS Credential holder.