"I call it creative destruction," Scott says of the team discussions. The different points of views can create a better advice model, he says.
Coming up with more options for families coping with mental illness often also means addressing their fear of uncertainty. Sheehan remembers one client who was holding onto more than $100,000 in cash, earning just .5% in a savings account as the family waited to find out if they would need to pay for their young children to attend a private school for special needs or a public school with additional tutoring.
"To achieve the things that were of top importance to them, they just couldn't do that," Sheehan says of the family keeping their cash in that savings account. "The amount of return on investment that they would get on that cash moving forward was not enough." The team wound up resolving that issue by taking what Sheehan calls a hybrid approach. The money was put into a portfolio of mutual funds that were very conservative, mainly in fixed income and some equities, but provided a higher rate of return between 4% and 6%.
Working with Scott's team through this process has been eye opening for Sean Fair, a financial advisor who relocated from Austin, Texas, to join Scott's practice in January. Fair, who focuses on small business owners and other entrepreneurs, says he had only limited work with special needs clients prior to joining the team.
"No one works in a silo," Fair says of the team. "Not only does it benefit the client, because a lot of us bring different viewpoints in, but it benefits the advisor and our growth."
The 13th Session
Focusing on that growth is exactly what is next for Scott's team. Last year, Scott taught his first Family-to-Family class, which he hosted from his office for around 20 participants. Scott also created a new thirteenth session for the class on financial planning and wealth management.
The additional session fills a hole by providing financial information that was not previously available, says DeAngelo, president of the NAMI Metrowest affiliate. The session goes over the unique financial needs the families face, such as the need for increased cash reserves 12 months or more to cover costs for counseling, medical care, legal fees and living expenses for their loved one.
In addition, the session delves into the unique financial structures that can be arranged for families coping with mental illness, including a conservatorship, durable power of attorney, joint account, repayee or trust. It also addresses how the families' spending habits may interfere with their financial goals.
But what Scott's team offers beyond that education is the understanding of the behavioral nuances associated with each mental illness condition, which in part comes from personal experience, DeAngelo says.
DeAngelo, whose own 36-year-old daughter has had ups and downs with bipolar disorder, has seen the financial impact that illness can have firsthand. While his daughter is doing very well now, he still remembers the $38,000 she charged on her credit card over just several weeks on a European vacation.
"There's one component of this illness that destroys people financially," DeAngelo says. "People [with mental illness] create businesses they have no right to be in. People buy houses they shouldn't buy. People buy sports cars they shouldn't buy."
For many families, the NAMI Family-to-Family class frees them from the stigma they feel, DeAngelo says after having taught ten classes with his wife. They first took the class together 11 years ago.
Those revelations were evident in some of the feedback Scott received in written evaluations from the class he taught.
"People with mental health issues are pushed aside, ignored, shuffled from place to place and often are no better off in the end," one class member wrote.
The class has also boosted Scott's team's profile in the community, even though it does not always immediately translate into new clients. The families that Scott meets run the gamut from those who are still consumed with crises and are not ready to address their financial situation to those who want to get started right away.
Holding the Family-to-Family class helped Scott's team reach maximum capacity on one kind of client: families without a lot of financial resources that Scott's team will work with pro bono. Scott's practice can take on about ten of those families a year.
Some of those special-needs families will require multiple meetings, Scott says, similar to the process the team goes through with its regular roster of clients.