How to guard client finances against dementia: CPAs' advice and diligence can help clients and their families avoid costly mistakes.

Author:Ovaska, Sarah
Position:Certified public accountants

William Cummings first noticed his father's faltering memory when visiting his dad's out-of-state home. The power had been cut off because of nonpayment while uncashed checks stacked up inside the house.

Cummings, a CPA/PFS and president of the accounting and wealth advisory firm Concierge Financial Organization, moved his father to Tampa, Fla., and became his caretaker in 2011 following a diagnosis of Alzheimer's and other ailments. It touched off a steep learning curve for Cummings, who had been caught off guard by his father's illness despite many years of professional accounting and financial planning experience.

"I was a deer in the headlights," he said. "Google doesn't tell you what you need to know. I learned through my own trial and error in making decisions for my dad."

Cummings's father died in 2014, and the CPA financial planner realized there was a need to help others in similar situations. He wrote a book--It Wasn't on My Calendar: 13 Lessons in Working Through Elder Care and Alzheimer's--and now dedicates a fair portion of his firm's work to elder care services.

Those with dementia can easily fall prey to fraudulent schemes, be taken advantage of, or simply not make the wise financial decisions they may have in the past, according to the National Institute on Aging. Financial issues are often one of the first signs that a person may be struggling with a dementia-related condition.

Cummings and other CPAs with experience helping aging clients shared their tips on ways to help clients prepare for their later years.

Talk to everyone

Conversations about elder care planning aren't just for clients eligible for AARP membership, Cummings said. He talks to all his clients about their family situation to hear if they have parents or grandparents struggling with health issues.

Having a full financial picture will help Cummings figure out if he needs to account for his clients potentially having to cover the financial costs of aging relatives.

"We're going to plan for the worst and hope for the best," he said.

Just mentioning the need to have financial protections in place for aging relatives has led to more firm business, with Cummings taking on work with older generations in a family.


Marcia Campbell, CPA, the owner of Marcia L. Campbell, CPA, in Riverside, Calif., has geared her practice toward seniors for the last 15 years, motivated by a high-profile case in her area where a conservator looted the accounts of seniors under the conservator's care.

"I want to be a safe place for seniors so that they don't...

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