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James Sullivan

Elder care begins with a network

Every community has a growing network of service providers who can help build your practice by serving the financial planning needs of senior citizens and their families. Here’s how.

May 14, 2012
by James Sullivan, CPA/PFS

If you are dedicated to serving the needs of seniors (especially those with chronic illness) as a CPA/PFS, the best place to begin to build your practice is with your current client base. Even relatively young clients have parents and grandparents who may need your assistance. But first, clients must be made aware of your expertise and the value it provides. Another rich source of potential business is right outside your office door, such as the service providers focused on seniors in your community. There are several ways to tap into this network. For example, you can volunteer, conduct seminars for other professionals (such as elder law attorneys), or simply knock on doors and introduce yourself.

Networking in your community

There are several advantages to volunteering to work with community organizations that provide services to the elderly:

  • Your expertise can often benefit the organization itself;
  • It offers you the opportunity to learn more about local services available to seniors as well as the needs of the elderly. This knowledge can enhance your credibility with current clients as well as potential clients; and
  • It establishes contacts with potential referral sources. These referrals may be from the organization itself or can be from other volunteers you meet.

Here are two examples of organizations you can volunteer with in most communities:

  1. The long-term care (LTC) ombudsman program is available in all 50 states and territories. The Administration on Aging (AoA) runs it in cooperation with local governments. Volunteers visit Medicare- or Medicaid-licensed local skilled nursing facilities and interview residents and their families. If the resident or family members have a complaint about the care received, the ombudsman can—with the resident’s permission—bring the problem to the attention of management and work to resolve the issue.
  2. Adult day care is growing throughout the country. For many families, caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia at home is a Herculean task. Adult day care centers offer a place where the patient can spend the day (or half a day) under the care of a professionally trained staff. In addition to giving the opportunity to socialize, the center provides nutritious meals, physical and cognitive exercises and some health care (usually a nurse is on staff for at least a portion of the day). The growing needs for such services are reflected in the growth of the number of centers and the number of participants. There are 4,600 adult day care centers around the country, a number that has grown by more than 35 percent since 2002. More than 260,000 participants use the facilities. Such centers are growing in importance as a much less expensive way to care for the frail elderly than placement in a skilled nursing facility. Under such programs seniors remain at home receiving care through a team of health care providers (doctors, social workers, geriatric nurses, etc.). During the day, program participants are placed in adult care centers. For more information and a directory of adult day care centers in your community, visit National Adult Day Services Association.       

    Most organizations offering adult day care services are not-for-profit entities and often need volunteers to serve on their board of directors.

  3. Faith-based organizations also have aging congregations. These congregations will need to address the growing numbers of members in need of care as they age. Starting a group that helps with these issues can be of tremendous benefit. Free seminars on aging-related topics are often very well attended. Seniors tend to be much more comfortable if they know the underlying purpose of the presentation is not to sell them a product. Often, they don’t know to whom they should turn for knowledgeable, unbiased guidance.

Local attorneys

A good networking opportunity is the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). You can find local members by going to their website and clicking on Find an Attorney.  In addition, local bar associations often have a committee of elder law attorneys or estate planning attorneys, which may be a good source of cross referrals. When approaching an attorney, remember that he or she has a similar interest in receiving referrals from other professionals. Ask questions about the practice and its “ideal” client, and show that you do not consider referrals a one-way street.

Many states require attorneys to obtain continuing education credits. Often local bar associations offer “lunch and learn” meetings. In addition to discussing the special financial planning needs of the chronically ill, you can present on topics, such as:

  • Medicare basics and funding health care after age 65;
  • LTC funding;
  • What to do if a client may have failed to file an income tax return because of the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia;
  • Organizing financial information for a senior with cognitive problems.

Keep in mind that attorneys are also aging. Oftentimes a presentation can result in picking up a new client from the attendees.

Other sources of referrals

Potential referrals include:

  • Geriatric care managers (GCMs) have backgrounds in nursing and social work. They assist patients and their families with planning and overseeing the care received by an elderly patient. Locate local GCMs by visiting the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers website. While many GCMs are excellent at planning and overseeing the delivery of care, few have a financial background.
  • Hospital discharge planners work with the patients and their families to plan and implement the provision of post-discharge care from the health care facility. Call local hospitals (acute hospitals, LTC hospitals, as well as rehabilitation hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, etc.) and ask for the discharge planner. Families often ask for advice on how care will be paid for—a question most discharge planners have limited ability and time to answer. They will gladly refer the question to an outside expert.

In the case of attorneys, GCMs, and discharge planners, sending a short introductory letter with any marketing material is a good first step followed by a call. Use your contacts at other organizations to arrange for introductions.

Getting started

As John Naisbitt observed in Megatrends, networking is a verb, not a noun. By tapping into the network of senior service providers in your community, you can build your CPA/PFS practice, learn more about the services offered, and contribute your needed expertise all at the same time.

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James Sullivan, CPA/PFS, works with his wife, Janet, who is an elder law attorney in Naperville, Ill.

* The AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning Section is the premier provider of information, tools, advocacy and guidance for CPAs who specialize in providing estate, tax, retirement, risk management and investment planning advice to individuals and closely held entities. The Personal Financial Planning Section is open to all Regular Members, Associate Members and Non-CPA Section Associate Members of the AICPA. If you are a CPA who wants to demonstrate your expertise in this subject matter, become a Personal Financial Specialist Credential holder. Visit www.aicpa.org/PFP to learn more.

** PFP Section members, including PFS credential holders will benefit from additional Elder Planning information in the Resource section and in Forefield Advisor on the AICPA’s PFP website at aicpa.org/pfp.