Particularly, if you’re 65 or older, you may have recently been asked by your financial advisor, custodian, or brokerage firm if you would like to add a trusted contact person to your account. The reason for this is that with an aging U.S. population, financial exploitation of seniors is becoming a very real problem. In order to help seniors from being taken advantage of, the financial industry’s regulatory authority is requiring that their member firms (such as Fidelity or Charles Schwab) make an effort to have their clients name a trusted contact person. It is not required that you have a trusted contact person, but the older you are, it may be something you should consider.
It’s first important to understand what a trusted contact person is and is not. A trusted contact is not someone who can trade or access your account or make financial decisions for you. Rather, a trusted contact is someone who your financial advisor, custodian or brokerage house can contact if they see signs that may indicate you’re being financially exploited. It is also a person who can confirm your mental or physical health status, the identity of any legal guardian, trustee or holder of a power of attorney that you may have. Unlike someone who you give a power of attorney to, who can make decisions and trade on your account and basically can do anything on your account that you can do, the trusted contact person cannot view your account information or make trades on your behalf.
Particularly, as someone gets up in age, they should consider a trusted contact person. However, the question is who do you appoint? Typically, people will name a family member; however, unfortunately, the research has shown that family members are the most frequent abusers of the elderly. It’s a shame, but that’s the reality. Therefore, in naming a trusted contact person you may have to think out of the box, and maybe think of someone who is not a family member and someone who you have not given a power of attorney to. For example, a close friend or a trusted professional. In addition, in most situations, you can name more than one person as a trusted contact. I think if you are going to name a trusted contact person, if possible, you should name at least two persons.
Is naming a trusted contact person a perfect solution – the answer is no. However, at this point in time, it probably is the best alternative to protect seniors from financial abuse. Therefore, particularly those who are over 70 or 75 years of age, it probably is a good idea to seriously think about adding a trusted contact person onto your account.
Senior financial abuse is a growing problem in America and unfortunately, I believe it will continue to grow well into the future. It affects seniors in every social and economic class–no one is immune. There is no 100 percent solution that would protect seniors from financial abuse, however, naming a trusted contact is something that can reduce the risk, and is a good first step. However, it is also important, maybe even more important, that family, friends and loved ones of seniors keep their eyes and ears open, and if you see or suspect a senior is being financially abused, or in fact, abused in any way, don’t stay silent; rather, take the appropriate action.
Rick is a fee-only financial advisor. If you would like Rick to respond to your questions, please email Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org.