A big swath of baby boomers is approaching their 70s and the investment companies are worried. Not because their primary market – boomers hold more than half of the estimated $50 trillion in total U.S. household financial assets – is retiring, but because of the rise in dementia.
How big is the problem? Boomers are now between the ages of 57 and 75. Beginning at 70, 12% of people will see a mild cognitive decline and dementia. That increases to 45% for people between the ages of 80 to 84.
Even a slight cognitive decline can lead to impaired judgment about finances. A boomer suffering from dementia could lose, through one imprudent investment, a lifetime’s worth of savings.
Compounding the cognitive decline problem is the complexity of handling asset allocations and retirement account withdrawal rates. It gets more difficult to figure out investments as you get older. Toss in major tax law changes and you have a recipe for disaster.
An additional worry: About 25% of boomers handle their own investments, instead of going through a wealth adviser. While that may have worked out well in the past, it leaves no safety net. A boomer who calls the shots alone could start on a mental decline and no one would notice.
Big investment companies like Vanguard Group, Fidelity Investments and Charles Schwab Corporation are taking this seriously. They have software that keeps track of their clients’ requests for password resets or difficulty working through their security protocols. Some companies track client-call recordings for signs of trouble.
Brokerage firms are required to ask customers to give them a trusted contact they can notify in the event of a problem. This rule has been in effect since 2018.
Brokerage firms have a rule that gives them the power to temporarily halt disbursements, but only when fraud is suspected. Texas also has a law, found in Texas Finance Code Section 281, which allows a financial institution to freeze an account for 10 days if exploitation is suspected. But a client’s dementia does not neatly fall under the definitions of fraud or exploitation, so it is unclear how often those safety measures are actually deployed.
Happily, boomers can take some proactive steps.
First, give your brokerage firm your trusted contact information. Right now, 75% of brokerage clients have not done that. This is an easy way for you to take advantage of the auto-trackers your firm has in place.
Second, make things easy for yourself. You don’t need 20 different accounts in 10 different financial institutions. You might even make money; many brokerage firms have built-in incentives like free financial advice and higher savings rates when you invest more money with them. Investigate low-cost advisory services or a single fund that already has a mix of investments.
Third, identify the person or service provider who can help manage your financial affairs. If possible, give that person your power of attorney or authority under a trust. Compile your internet passwords, financial information and important bills and share the location of it with your agent.
Fourth, be open to investigating your cognitive level. If your physician recommends a consult with a geriatric psychologist or the like, do it. Take a look at the cognitive apps, if any, offered by your bank or investment group.
Finally, realize that the very nature of cognitive decline makes it almost impossible to recognize it in yourself. The need for a safety net is real. Just ask the investment firms.
Virginia Hammerle is an attorney with Hammerle Finley Law Firm. She is an accredited estate planner and has been board-certified in civil trial law for 25 years. She blogs regularly on senior issues and the law. Email [email protected] for her monthly newsletter. This column is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice.