Financial Planning For Serious Mental Illness

Julius Buchanan, Managing Editor, Wealth Solutions Report

Paul Peeler On Removing The Cost Burden For Financial Planning And Advising Parents And Caregivers Facing A Loved One’s Serious Mental Illness

We all enjoy giving back to the community in various ways, such as food banks, donations to charity, blood drives and a myriad of other volunteer opportunities. But there’s a special significance to taking skills honed over many years serving clients and leveraging them into the very instruments of giving. 

Paul Peeler, Partner and Member Advisor, Integrated Financial Group

Some financial professionals find ways to help those in need through financial advice, financial planning or other unique skills gained in the wealth management industry. This includes Paul Peeler, a Partner and Member Advisor at Atlanta-based Integrated Financial Group, with over 80 members across eight states and over $2.7 billion in brokerage and advisory assets and $2.3 billion in assets under management. 

A 30-year veteran in financial services, Peeler founded The Preparedness Project, which assists families confronted with a serious mental illness (SMI) by providing financial planning and guidance while eliminating cost as an obstacle. The project charges $50 for participation, which is donated to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the largest grassroots mental health organization in the country.

Parents and caregivers in need often come to The Preparedness Project when a loved one encounters an SMI later in life. Peeler’s project provides a full financial analysis for participants and specific recommendations that participants can implement, either with an advisor of their choice or by themselves.

We talked with Peeler about why he founded the project, common issues that parents and caregivers encounter and recommended resources.

WSR: Why did you start The Preparedness Project? What are you hearing from parents and caregivers? 

Peeler: The Preparedness Project started years ago as I was helping clients work through some issues that arose in their families. It was clear to me even then that the choices they were working through as spouses were much different than those of my other, more traditional, clients. These issues hit closer to home over time as friends and family members found themselves as SMI caregivers later in life. 

Money is emotionally charged

In my research, I found there are substantial resources available for special needs planning in general, but little in the public domain to assist the late-onset SMI parent or caregiver in managing the pivot in their own financial planning. I started The Preparedness Project as a cost-effective resource for those families.

As it relates to financial planning for caregivers themselves, my observation is that it’s difficult for spouses to get on the same page about the level of financial support they feel they can provide. That’s understandable though, as money is an emotionally charged topic to start with and adding a layer of crisis amplifies the dynamic.

WSR: What differentiates retirement planning for late-onset SMI caregivers from traditional retirement planning? Are there any other dynamics that these populations should be aware of? Will the investment strategies for this population be different from those used with more traditional retirement planning? 

Peeler: Late-onset SMI caregivers face the prospect of a significant increase in present and post-retirement expenses for the treatment and ongoing maintenance of their loved one. These expenses usually come at a time when the parents are entering the “home stretch” of their careers, and no longer have decades to make up the difference. 

A compressed timeframe

The result is that they find themselves with higher expenses than they were ever anticipating, along with a compressed timeframe within which to deal with them.

If these issues aren’t enough, caregivers should also consider the complexities of multi-generational asset planning, changes in their insurance needs, increased estate and legal complexities and career management – all while operating on reduced emotional bandwidth.

Asset preservation

From an investment standpoint, multi-generational asset and income planning tends to lean toward strategies that emphasize portfolio longevity and asset preservation. This means certain types of annuities and insurance could play a greater role in concert with low cost, globally diversified stock and bond allocations.

WSR: What do you see that parents and caregivers get right? In what areas can parents and caregivers do a better job?

Peeler: Most parents immediately pivot to exploring needs-based benefits for their kids. I think that is because there is an immediate sense that what they are experiencing could be a significant long-term financial event, and they want to get ahead of it.

A squeeze on finances

Conversely, we see parents and caregivers absorbing large expenses without realistically considering the impact to their own long-term financial health. We’ve seen a mixed bag of outcomes. Some families can absorb the cost with no problem. Others are likely going to be okay, but they are certainly squeezed. Then we have a group of families that spent money they really couldn’t afford and are now facing a tough climb ahead.

Additionally, parents and caregivers also have years of accumulated knowledge regarding the needs and nuances of their child. Unfortunately, that valuable information resides solely in their head. A well-crafted Letter of Intent can transition that wealth of knowledge onto paper where it can be preserved for the next generation of caregivers for the child.

WSR: What resources do you recommend? 

Peeler: Here are some helpful books sitting on my desk right now: 

Helpful books
  • “Planning For the Future,” Russell, L.M. & Grant, A.E. (2006)
  • “The Special Needs Planning Guide,” Nadworny, J.W. & Haddad, C.R. (2007)
  • “When Mental Illness Strikes,” Giese, A. (2018)

And as always, The Preparedness Project is a resource for SMI caregivers and their families.

Julius Buchanan, Managing Editor at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at

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