Conversations About Elder Needs Aren’t Happening, According to Wells Fargo Survey

57 percent of older Americans say having a conversation about later-life needs is a low priority (even among those 80+), and a third have never discussed it with family

ST. LOUIS--()--Embarking on the seemingly “golden years” of life, older Americans have identified a pain point — talking about potential challenges or needs as they age.

According to the 2018 Wells Fargo Elder Needs Survey, older Americans are not yet talking with their families about their later years and the kind of help they may need, nor are they talking about their plans for healthcare, their estate, and other basic plans for aging. Lack of urgency is the biggest barrier to conversation, and both older Americans and their adult children say the conversation is difficult. While recognizing the prevalence of exploitation and scams targeting seniors, few older Americans believe they will fall victim, and key protections are not yet in place.

Some older adults may struggle to see the need to plan for issues they may face as a result of aging. They spend a lifetime preparing for retirement, but then fail to plan to see themselves through retirement,” said Ron Long, head of Regulatory Affairs and Elder Client Initiatives at Wells Fargo Advisors. “This unwillingness to plan and have hard conversations about aging is increasing senior vulnerability and leaving gaps in protection.”

The 2018 Wells Fargo Elder Needs Survey represents a national sample of 784 older Americans (ages 60+, with at least $25,000 in investable assets) and a similar survey of 798 adult children (ages 45 to 59, with at least $25,000 in investable assets) who communicate with a parent regularly. The survey was conducted between Feb. 26 and March 15, 2018.

Aging and money are difficult to talk about

Older Americans may be posing a threat to their nest egg by shying away from conversations about aging. More than one-third of older Americans who are parents say it is difficult to talk with their children about challenges they will face in later years, including one in four (24 percent) who say it is difficult to talk about money and finances. Adult children find such conversations even more difficult, with one in three (34 percent) saying money and finances are difficult to discuss.

The biggest reason most parents and children are not yet talking, however, is that they see no urgency, especially among parents (even among those age 80+). More than half of older parents (57 percent) say having a conversation about later-life needs is a low priority, and a third have never discussed it with family. Adult children are equally unwilling to have these conversations because it is either a low priority (32 percent) or would cause conflict (23 percent).

Even so, four out of five adult children say they want their parents to plan more so that they do not have to intervene. This contrasts to the 35 percent of older Americans who say that too much planning gets in the way of enjoying life.

People who plan are happier

Older Americans who have talked with their families about later-life needs and have estate and planning documents in place are happier. In looking at eight planning behaviors measured in the survey, 40 percent of those who have done between six and eight of the activities describe themselves as very happy; this contrasts to 22 percent of those who have done none of the activities or just one or two.

While planning for old age isn’t a topic individuals particularly enjoy, it often provides greater confidence and comfort in knowing that they’ve prepared for potential later-life needs,” Long said. “That confidence translates into greater happiness because it’s one less thing they, or their children, need to worry about.”

Gaps in planning and protection

Despite the positive potential impact of planning, many older Americans do not have important estate and health documents in place. While three-quarters of older Americans (74 percent) report having a written will, many fewer report having other legal and financial documents:

  • 60 percent have an advance healthcare directive.
  • 59 percent have a power of attorney for healthcare.
  • 48 percent have a power of attorney for financial matters.

Having documents in place does not necessarily mean they are current. One in six report their documents are out of date.

Scams and financial abuse: “It won’t happen to me”

Older Americans are targeted for scams, often because they have accumulated significant wealth or they are vulnerable because of isolation and/or cognitive or physical decline. And while older Americans recognize the prevalence of elder exploitation and scams, few say they believe they will fall victim themselves; as a result, key protections are not in place.

Nearly all older Americans (98 percent) say that older people are susceptible to scams, as do 98 percent of adult children. But only one in ten say they are susceptible to scams, and only one in four (24 percent) worry about it. Self-assurance is a driving factor of this sentiment, as four out of five (81 percent) of older Americans say they are confident they will not be scammed out of their money as they get into their later years.

This assurance is not one-sided. While adult children are far more likely to say their parents are susceptible to scams (38 percent), three out of four (75 percent) also say they are confident that their parents will not fall victim.

Of even greater concern is the misunderstanding of who targets seniors. Although nearly half of older Americans (48 percent) say there are family members they would not trust with their money, 68 percent say strangers are the most likely perpetrator of financial exploitation, followed by hired help (24 percent). Fewer than one in ten (9 percent) say that family members are the most likely perpetrators, despite family members being among the most common perpetrators1.

Unlike strangers, family members don’t have to gain access and establish a relationship with the victim; they are already positioned to exploit,” said Kez Wold, associate commissioner for Adult Protective Services in Texas. “Also, family members may rationalize the exploitation, or may feel entitled to the money. And if a family member is the perpetrator, the victim is certainly less likely to report or pursue the issue.”

Even among seniors who are aware of potential financial abuse, the majority of older Americans do not have protective measures in place to guard against potential threats:

  • 11 percent have alerts of large transactions sent to others.
  • 11 percent keep their checks or credit cards locked away.
  • About a third (30 percent) say they have a “trusted contact” on file with their financial institution for protection against financial scams or exploitation.
  • Just over a third (35 percent) do not check their credit report annually.
  • Two-thirds sign documents without having others review them first.
  • Fewer than half (46 percent) use automatic bill pay so others are not writing checks.

Helping protect seniors

As concerns about elder financial abuse and exploitation rise, Wells Fargo is among the financial services companies working to prevent and stop the crime before it takes root. All Wells Fargo team members who interact with customers take annual training on how to prevent and report suspected elder financial abuse. Wells Fargo also offers a senior curriculum in Hands on Banking®, a financial education program offered free of charge across the U.S., and has begun a public awareness effort to encourage individuals to take steps to protect themselves.

View the Wells Fargo Elder Financial Abuse Protection Guide for more information.

Along with the company-wide actions noted above, in 2014 Wells Fargo Advisors created a dedicated Elder Client Initiatives team — a unit devoted to taking action when a financial advisor or other team member suspects a customer is the victim of financial abuse and which has advocated extensively for state statutory changes that enhance elder protection.

Prevention as a defense

There are a number of actions individuals can take to protect themselves from elder financial abuse and exploitation:

  • Talk with trustworthy family members about your financial plans.
  • Update and have legal documents in place, such as wills, an advance healthcare directive, and powers of attorney for financial matters and for health care.
  • Put in place protections such as signing up for direct deposit, annual credit report checks, automatic bill pay, automatic alerts of large transactions sent to a trustworthy individual, and keeping checks and credit cards locked away.
  • Avoid isolation through social activities.

Putting safeguards in place and engaging in a transparent, open dialogue will be critical in protecting the dollars older Americans have worked hard to accumulate,” Long said. “In some cases, their livelihood may depend on it.”

1 National Adult Protective Services Association, 2018

About Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) is a diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.9 trillion in assets. Wells Fargo’s vision is to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially. Founded in 1852 and headquartered in San Francisco, Wells Fargo provides banking, investments, mortgage, and consumer and commercial finance through 8,200 locations, 13,000 ATMs, the internet (wellsfargo.com) and mobile banking, and has offices in 42 countries and territories to support customers who conduct business in the global economy. With approximately 265,000 team members, Wells Fargo serves one in three households in the United States. Wells Fargo & Company was ranked No. 25 on Fortune’s 2017 rankings of America’s largest corporations. News, insights and perspectives from Wells Fargo are also available at Wells Fargo Stories.

About Wells Fargo Advisors

With $1.66 trillion in client assets as of March 31, 2018, Wells Fargo Advisors provides investment advice and guidance to clients through 14,399 full-service financial advisors and referrals from 4,525 licensed bankers. This vast network of advisors, one of the nation’s largest, serves investors through locations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Wells Fargo Advisors is the trade name used by Wells Fargo Clearing Services LLC and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC, Members SIPC, separate registered broker-dealers and non-bank affiliates of Wells Fargo & Company. All data includes Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC, as of March 31, 2017.www.wellsfargoadvisors.com

About the Study

Versta Research conducted a national survey for Wells Fargo of 784 older Americans (ages 60+, with at least $25,000 in investable assets) and a similar survey of 798 adult children (ages 45 to 59, with at least $25,000 in investable assets) who communicate with a parent regularly. The two groups were sampled independently, each stratified by age, gender, race, ethnicity, region, and assets to ensure samples that reflect the full U.S. population of each group. The survey was conducted between February 26 and March 15, 2018.

About Versta Research

Versta Research is a full-service market research firm, headquartered in Chicago, IL, specializing in customized strategic market research and public opinion polling.

Contacts

Media Contacts:
Desari Mueller, 314-875-4047
Desari.Mueller@wellsfargoadvisors.com
or
Kim Yurkovich, 314-875-4042
Kim.Yurkovich@wellsfargoadvisors.com

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Release Summary

Embarking on the seemingly “golden years” of life, older Americans have identified a pain point — talking about potential needs as they age.

Wells Fargo & Company