Many of you with brokerage accounts may have encountered questions about "Trusted Contacts". In 2018, new rules were put in place to protect seniors with brokerage accounts from financial scams that could drain the accounts before anyone notices.
As the population ages, elder financial abuse is a mounting problem. Vulnerable seniors can become victims of scammers who convince them to empty their investment accounts. According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the organization that regulates firms and professionals selling securities in the United States, its Securities Helpline for Seniors has received more than 12,000 calls and recovered more than $5.3 million for seniors whose investment funds were illegally or inappropriately distributed since the helpline opened in April 2015.
In 2018, FINRA issued two new rules designed to help investment brokers or advisors better protect seniors' accounts from financial exploitation. The rules, which went into effect in February 2018, apply when opening a brokerage account or updating information for an existing account.
First, the broker or investment advisor must ask the investor for the name of a trusted contact person. This is someone the broker can contact if there are questions about the account. The trusted contact is intended to be a resource for the broker to address possible financial exploitation and to obtain the customer's current contact information and health status or learn about any legal guardian, executor, trustee or holder of a power of attorney.
The second rule allows a broker to place a temporary hold on disbursements from an account if those disbursements seem suspicious. This rule applies to accounts belonging to investors age 65 and older or investors with mental or physical impairments that the broker reasonably believes make it difficult for the investor to protect his or her own financial interests. Before disbursing the funds, the brokerage firm will be able to investigate the disbursement by reaching out to the investor, the trusted contact, or law enforcement.
Prior to the new rules, issues of privacy prevented a broker from contacting family members when suspicious activity was detected, and under previous FINRA rules brokerage firms risked liability for halting suspicious transactions.
In general, it is a good idea to have both a durable power of attorney who is a trusted person AND someone named on your brokerage accounts. If you have long term care insurance, be sure that your power of attorney knows about it and knows how to access your benefits if you need them. Insurance companies do not use the same "trusted contact" system that brokerage companies do. In our practice, we find that having a financial advisor or family member with a good understanding of your finances and planning makes everything smoother and more efficient.