“Our industry is out there wining and dining as much as any industry. If [advisors] are heavy drinkers themselves, there’s probably not a big chance they’re going to step in,” he said. “They might feel they’re being hypocritical, or will be accused of being hypocritical, especially if they’ve drunk together before.”

But ferreting out dependency or addiction is very much part of risk assessment, and if advisors think they’re staying in their lane by not being ready to address it, they’re dead wrong, Koplin advised.

“Not knowing is issue one. Issue two is knowing but not doing anything about it,” she said. “One in four or five adults struggles with a mental health disorder. That’s a lot of people. And the more open you are about it, the more you build it into your practice, the more you can help.”

Some of the outward signs of a struggle with dependency are fairly obvious, like large chunks of money going out of an account and into a rehab center, or large chunks of money going out and there’s no accounting for it at all.

Other signs are much harder to pinpoint.

“If you don’t actually know what’s going on, a lot of the signs of addiction also could be signs of dementia,” Seeber said, providing a short list of common behaviors that should raise questions:

• Recurring signs of incapacitation, such as falls or accidents.
• Missing calls or scheduled appointments
• Lack of eye-to-eye contact or multiple distractions during a conversation
• Receiving texts or voicemails during unusual hours requesting money
• Hearing story after story in which the facts just don’t add up
• Signs of estranged relationships with a spouse or close family member

To encourage a client to open up, all the sources for this article emphasized the importance of building trust with clients through highly personal service.

“We’re fee only, we don’t sell anything. My goal is to get clients in and never lose them,” Folkes said. “And I’ve had long-term clients where I’ve known their kids, and we’ve talked many times about their kids. Clients where they’ve said ‘If I died and my kid got a million dollars it would kill them because they’d snort it up their nose.’ But if it’s the client who has the problem and they don’t want to talk about it, they can cover things up with just a blink of a thought. It’s hard to explain, but you see it. These are people who would never lie. But they’ll lie about their drinking. And that can ruin generations of a family.”

One of the best ways for advisors to avoid any feelings of conflict around bringing up the topic of addiction is to build it into the relationship with the client from the very beginning, starting with the general questions an advisor would ask in a first meeting anyway, Seeber recommended.

Typical questions in a new client questionnaire might include, “Are there any past or present medical or mental health issues we should budget for right now?” or “Tell me about your living situation and your relationship with other family members.”

But she also suggested direct questions that, if part of new client intake, are less confrontational than if they pop up later seemingly out of the blue, questions like “Have you ever had addiction issues addressed in your estate plan; if not, do you feel it is necessary to think about incorporating these issues?” or “Are there any health or other circumstances affecting whom you contemplate naming as beneficiaries or fiduciaries in your estate planning?”

With the disruption of COVID-19 and its influence on substance abuse, Seeber said she has other questions to ask of all clients in the here and now that can be equally revealing.