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What to Do When Your Client Acts Erratically

If an elderly client shows signs of mental impairment, is it any of your business?

I am a stockbroker, and I have an elderly, wealthy client who has always managed his account pretty conservatively, with my help. But now I see signs of mental impairment -- fuzzy thinking, forgetfulness, erratic behavior. He wants to trade more often and insists that I buy speculative stocks for him that he hears about from friends and on TV shows. What should I do?

I applaud your desire to do what's right for your client. Sadly, many older people deny that they are losing their mental or physical skills, and they insist on continuing to do things that have become hazardous to themselves and others, such as driving, managing their own finances and living alone.

Consider contacting a member of your client's family and sharing your concern. I hope the two of you can persuade your client to follow your advice or grant a limited power of attorney to a trusted friend or relative. The family's goal should be avoidance of the painful last resort: a court-ordered finding of mental incompetence.

Charity obligations

My late mother endowed a special program at her alma mater, and the donation record clearly states the college's obligation to use her money for this specific purpose. Now I find that the college has discontinued the program, with no notification to our family. What can we do about this?


Charities have a moral and legal obligation to use earmarked funds as the donor intended. Ask for a meeting with senior college staff to hear their explanation. Perhaps they could satisfy your mother's intent by applying the endowment income to a different but related purpose. If that is not possible, then you have grounds for demanding that the endowment be transferred to another charity that will use it as she wished. Taking such action won't be easy, I'm afraid, so I hope an amicable resolution can be achieved.

Have a money-and-ethics question you'd like answered in this column? Write to Editor in Chief Knight Kiplinger at