Clarity and Caution Around Capacity

Many people work hard to make sure there are ample assets to provide for the go-go, slow-go and no-go season of life.  Have you ever considered how the mental capacity to manage those resources will change as you age?

A study done in January of 2017 by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College delves into “How cognitive aging could affect Financial Capacity.”

Your financial capacity is the ability to manage your financial affairs in your own best interest.  It scopes a broad range of activities ranging from rudimentary money skills (understanding the value of bills and coins) to complex activities such as identifying assets and income, exercising judgement around risk and return of investments or comprehending tax implications of purchases or sales.

Many activities in our financial lives are based on “crystallized” intelligence.  This is the knowledge and skills we have gained over time, also known as  financial literacy.  These are the practical, day to day financial applications or procedures in our lives.  It is heightened with the level of involvement in family monetary matters.  With normal cognitive aging, knowledge remains largely intact throughout our 70’s or 80’s.

Our “fluid” intelligence incorporates memory, attention and information processing.  As our wealth grows, so does the need to track where it is at, and how to best utilize it for what is important to us. This “fluid” aspect of our intellect can start to decline as early as age 30.

The research found that individuals that age normally are more likely to develop deficits in the area of judgment over their ability to carry out the basic tasks.  However, there are cautions in both areas of capacity.

Many people in their fall season are competent of managing the “crystallized” aspects of their financial lives.   If a person has not taken an active role in the family finances, they are vulnerable to losing capacity in this area.  A “financial novice” may be a person that has had to take over the responsibilities of managing the family finances in the event of a death or incapacitation of another family member.  Women who lose a spouse and have not been involved in the family finances are highly vulnerable to losing capacity in this area.

Cognitive impairment, ranging from mild (CMI), to dementia primarily affects financial judgment – the “fluid” intelligence”. This can pose challenges in that a person can feel confident and remain “knowledgeable” about day to day activities, but their impaired judgment makes them more likely to become victims of fraud.  As people loose both the “crystalized” and “fluid” elements of their intellect, they are additionally exposed to financial abuse by caregivers.

Since a critical characteristic of cognitive decline or impairment is the unawareness of the deteriorating state, how can we protect ourselves and our loved ones?

  1. Educate yourself around financial literacy. I have heard too many stories that started with “my spouse is the money person, I just let them take care of it”. Educate and empower yourself around everything financial!  Start somewhere and keep learning.
  2. Educate yourself on the aging process. Talk to your elder family members as to what they are experiencing. Embrace and make the most out of it.  Do the best you can with your choices to maximize your health in all areas of your life during this season.
  3. Build trusted relationships with friends, family and advisors (health, spiritual, financial). Make sure everyone has your best interest in mind and communicate with each other.  Transparency, integrity and honesty will serve you well.
Share this episode