“One is, ‘In the scheme of things financial, what makes this year different from 2019.’ Some of those answers might be obvious, like they lost their job or they retired, but your client might raise some concerns that surprise you,” she said. “Another question is, ‘If you go back two years and look forward, are doing what you’d thought you’d be doing?’”

The key in this questioning is to not talk about addiction directly, but to create a safe dynamic where the client can open up that part of a conversation, she said. For parents, a variation on that last question, “What about the people you love? Are they where you thought they’d be two years ago?” can be gut-wrenching, but productive.

Whatever the method a financial advisor uses to broach and discuss addiction, the advisor has to be ready to help. And help does not mean try to fix the problem, but to connect the client to services where a trained professional in that arena can help the client directly. Every community has these services, and a good advisor will figure out the best options in advance.

“You’re not a therapist, you’re not a counselor,” Seeber said. “But you can’t just open the topic with these questions and then leave it there. You really have to have local resources that will be helpful.”

Those resources include the obvious ones, like local mental health and substance abuse assistance, but also a recommendation for an estate attorney who has experience with clients dealing with a substance abuse situation within a family, and even a defense attorney who is familiar with addiction and drug court should that be required at some point.

It’s important that advisors also set the expectation with clients that if the advisor notices any unusual behavior, he or she will reach out to a “trusted contact” chosen at the very first meeting. This should not be a spouse, but someone close to the family, like a best friend or sibling, Seeber said. “The idea of the trusted contact is very important, and it’s the same as with dementia. Who do you call if there’s unusual behavior?”

Similarly, if it seems like a trust is the best way to protect family assets, choosing an outside trustee will create less friction in the family dynamic down the road than appointing someone within the family.

Difficult as it might seem, advisors who incorporate conversations about dependence and addiction professionally and thoroughly will not only display professionalism up front, but will also set the right tone for future conversations should they be needed.

“Some of my clients have come to me through their financial advisor, and from them I hear them say, ‘This person cares about me more than money,’” Koplin said. “And I’ve also heard people say, ‘If I had gotten this kind of help from my financial advisor, it would have strengthened the relationship.’ People across the board want to know their value to you is more than just the money they have.”

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