laughing family, senior parents and their adult son

Do you have clients who have aging parents? Do you know how to help these clients prepare for what may lie ahead? Although this issue is not strictly included in your mandate as a financial advisor, there’s a lot you can do.

There are many issues surrounding aging. The scariest are development of dementia; vulnerability to physical, verbal and financial abuse; stress on caregivers; and potential damage to familial relationships.

But there’s also a long list of less dramatic but equally important concerns that clients need to help their parents prepare for, such as living arrangements, transportation needs and making sure the parents don’t feel isolated and lonely. Your clients and their parents will need a detailed plan, but creating such a plan can be difficult. You can help by suggesting those clients and their parents begin early and by providing guidance.

The biggest stumbling block can be getting a family to discuss the prospect of the parents’ failing health or mental decline. Many elderly people don’t want to think about their health deteriorating and their eventual death. They value independence and don’t want their children to know about their finances or the details of their lives.

The first step, then, is to find ways for your clients to get their aging parents to open up about how they’d like to see the rest of their lives unfold.

Adrian Mastracci, financial planner and portfolio manager with Lycos Asset Management Inc. in Vancouver, tells his clients who have aging parents: “[Talking about seniors’ issues] takes time. Begin slowly, be patient, listen and don’t push your own agenda. Pose questions and listen to the answers. Sometimes, you have to compromise.”

Avoid the word “should” during these discussions, says Lorea Declercq, advisor in Vancouver with Assante West Pender, a unit of Assante Financial Management Ltd., who holds the elder planning counsellor (EPC) designation. “It’s a word that sets the stage for an argument,” she says.

Parents should be making all the decisions that affect them, Declercq says, unless their mental capacity is compromised.

“Parents don’t want children to take over,” Declercq says. She tells her clients who are the adult children in these situations: “The more you take away, the more soul-destroying that is. Don’t be a bully.”

Laura Tamblyn Watts, lawyer and national director of law, policy and research with CARP (formerly the Canadian Association for Retired Persons), emphasizes that aging issues often are fraught with emotion for the parents. “[The issues] are tied to [parents’] sense of self and often to their sense of identity in the community.”

An adult child must respect a parent’s need for identity, which may be connected to his or her job. “There’s no reason for older parents not to keep working,” Tamblyn Watts says, “if that’s what they want to do.”

Leaving decisions to parents can be difficult when your clients fear their parents could get involved in risky behaviour. Audrey Miller, founder and managing director of Elder Caring Inc. in Toronto, recommends an approach she calls “reverse guilt”: the adult child could say: “Mum, can you wear a medical alert for me? I’m so worried that I can’t concentrate at work. I can’t function well. Please do this for me.”

That is, blame the adult child’s anxiety; not the parent’s failing health.


One way to get parents to begin discussing aging issues can be to ask questions in the context of other people or situations, says Wilmot George, vice president, tax, retirement and estate planning, with CI Investments Inc. in Toronto.

For example, after attending the funeral of a parent’s friend, the adult child could say: “Isn’t it scary that so-and-so fell at home and wasn’t found for three days?”

Or, after watching a news story on TV about fraud, the child could ask: “Did you know so many older people are falling victim to fraud?” This can lead to a discussion about what can be done to lessen the parent’s vulnerability to fraud.

Once parents are willing to discuss the future, both the parents and their adult children can begin to develop a plan.

“If there isn’t a plan,” warns Rhonda Latreille, founder and CEO of Age-Friendly Business (a.k.a. the AFBA; in Vancouver, who holds the certified professional consultant on aging (CPCA) designation, “decisions will have to made when a crisis occurs. And that’s when emotions run high.”

A family meeting is a good first step. If possible, all of your client’s siblings should attend. Attendance can be difficult if some family members live far away, but planning a meeting may be manageable if it coincides with a family event. The meeting doesn’t have to be formal. “Sitting around the kitchen table can work,” George says.

Having the parents decide to reveal their financial assets is best. If they don’t want to do that but will say, “I have the assets” to cover required expenses, a plan can be created, says Mark Bertoli, advisor and CPCA with Abbott Wealth Man- agement Inc., a unit of Investment Planning Counsel Inc. (IPC), in Kamloops, B.C.


An outsider can help keep the family discussion on track and lower the level of emotions. You can recommend an elder-care specialist to sit in on the meeting. Or you can take on that role yourself. There are courses available that can give you some of the necessary training. For example, the AFBA offers online courses to obtain the CPCA designation.

The Beamsville, Ont.-based Canadian Initiative for Elder Planning Studies Inc. ( confers the EPC designation, and offers both on-site classes and distance-learning programs.

The Canadian Institute of Financial Planning ( in Burlington, Ont., confers the registered retirement consultant (RRC) designation.

If you opt to bring in a professional consultant, Elder Caring, for example, offers this service for a fee of $145 an hour. (Elder Caring counsellors are registered social workers and this service may be covered under extended health plans.)

Latreille also suggests considering a transition counsellor, many of whom have “remarkable skills, including guiding family meetings.”


As a plan is formulated, covering as much as possible is important. Ensure your client has a list of all the issues that need to be discussed: daily living (food, housework, house maintenance); transportation, including how the parents will get around if neither can drive or walk far; the kind of in-home help that would be acceptable and affordable; and residence options if mobility becomes an issue.

Help from the primary caregiver’s siblings is important to ensure that the caregiver doesn’t burn out and experience deteriorating physical and mental health. That’s especially important if the caregiver has children or young adults who also need support.

The stress of caregiving “can be hard on the spouse and children of your client,” says Ann Kolstad, senior financial consultant and RRC with Investors Group Inc. in Winnipeg.


The grandchildren in the family – teens and young adults – also can help support the primary caregiver, Kolstad notes. Your client can “sit down with them and tell them we need you to be on board.”

Some of the chores siblings and grown grandchildren can help with include accompanying the (grand)parents to medical appointments; researching residence options; researching options for in-house help and interviewing candidates; and visiting and keeping in frequent touch with the elderly family members.

Kolstad notes that not everyone can handle caregiving emotionally. No one “should feel bad if it’s not your bag.”

There are resources available, including government programs to provide home care and food, paid outside help, businesses that deliver purchases and consultants who offer guidance. Community services, such as adult daycare and in-home assistance, are available in many parts of the country. Some may be free or with nominal charges; others are privately run and charge fees.


The importance of frequent contact with aging parents can’t be emphasized enough. Face-to-face visits are best because adult children can see their parents’ degree of mobility and personal hygiene, and the state of the house.

As well, seniors become lonely and bored – particularly if they live alone and are losing mobility or mental capacity, or have other health issues.

But if adult children can visit only occasionally, they should make regular phone calls – not just to check in, but to give elderly parents who have decreasing mobility and activity something to look forward to, says Melanie Twietmeyer, wealth advisor with Legacy Wealth Management Inc., a unit of IPC, in Calgary: “I call my mother three times a week as I drive in to work.”

Mastracci agrees that parents should “always have something to look forward to – a walk, a visit, phone calls.”

Mark Mertens, senior financial consultant with Investors Group in Edmonton, says some of his clients have hired people to spend time with their parents. “As human beings, we all need social interaction,” he says. “When the world becomes smaller, seniors often become unsure of themselves, give up driving and become afraid of things. It’s important for children to make sure parents are engaged.”


If nothing else, your clients must ensure that their parents have valid wills and powers of attorney (POAs) – both property POAs and personal care POAs – as well as health directives. (See story on page 9.) Clients must know where these documents are kept so they can be found if either of the parents dies or becomes incapacitated.

Your clients also should try to get the names and phone numbers of all the important people in their parents’ lives: banker, financial advisor, doctors, specialists, dentist, pharmacist, friends and neighbours. Clients also should locate any of their parents’ insurance policies.

Your clients should try to ensure their parents understand the nuances of any documents they sign. For example, if a personal-care POA lists several people using the word “and,” then all those people must agree to what’s decided. That will be complicated if a decision has to made quickly and some of those people are travelling or otherwise not available. However, if the list uses the word “or,” any of the people on the list can make the decision.

A health directive may be valid only in the jurisdiction in which it was issued, Latreille says, so your clients should check to see if a directive was signed in the province in which the signatory parent currently lives. Latreille also points out that parents hesitant about signing a health directive may be worried that doing so will mean they won’t be resuscitated; in fact, a health directive is the only way to be sure they will be resuscitated.

A property POA is active as soon as it’s signed, unless the document specifies that it will become activated only when the signatory has been certified by a medical doctor to be mentally incompetent to manage his or her affairs. Christine Van Cauwenberghe, vice president of tax and estate planning with Investors Group in Winnipeg, warns that many general practitioners are hesitant to certify incompetency.

An active property POA isn’t a problem as long as the person or persons holding the POA is trustworthy. However, there have been instances of people holding POAs defrauding the signatory – including family members holding a POA. One way to minimize this risk is to appoint two or more people to hold the POA and specify that all of them must be involved in any decision.


Everyone knows that seniors are frequent targets for fraud; what’s not as well known is that in the majority of these cases, the fraud was perpetrated by a family member or caregiver.

A parent may be tempted to give a bank card and PIN number to a family member, friend or caregiver. There would be nothing to prevent that person from withdrawing money in excess of the accountholder’s directions and pocketing it. Usually, banks will not cover fraud when a PIN number is shared.

If family members or close friends don’t keep in frequent touch with seniors, they can also be targeted by an unscrupulous new “friend.” In some cases, vulnerable affluent seniors have been persuaded to marry a new acquaintance. This practice, known as “predatory marriage,” often results in family and friends being shut out of the elderly person’s life and that person’s assets being plundered.

Elderly parents who have their own financial advisor have some protection because any withdrawals of money would have to go through the advisor. If there’s an unusual request, a good advisor will arrange a meeting with the elderly client to discuss the purpose of the withdrawal.

If an elderly parent agrees to their adult child – your client – having online access to the parent’s bank and credit card accounts, that kind of fraud can be recognized quickly.

Not all seniors are computer-savvy. If your client can persuade elderly parents to get a computer and learn how to use it, they will be able to monitor their accounts and also enjoy the convenience of managing the accounts and paying bills online.