Taking over your aging parents’ finances is not easy. But it’s something that can be handled in an organized, compassionate way. Here’s a roadmap that shows how to embrace it and do the right things for everyone involved.
Start the conversation early. Right now, your parents might not need any help. They might be handling everything just fine. But there will come a day when they can’t – and they’ll need your help. The National Institute on Aging recommends that parents give advance written consent to designated family members so they can discuss personal matters with doctors, financial representatives and Medicare officials. If you don’t have this, you’ll be faced with some road blocks. If you open the dialogue now, you’ll circumvent obstacles, as well as get a better feel for what their future needs might be.
Watch for the signs. If you don’t see your parents often, and even if you do, the signs of when you need to step in might be a bit hard to detect. That said, there are some things to look for that will indicate that their needs are changing.
- Unusual purchases. If you find out that your folks are buying things that don’t match their lifestyle, or entering lots of contests and sweepstakes, then it’s time to speak up. Behavior like this might get out of hand – or worse, they might be getting scammed. Older people are most vulnerable to the vultures out there.
- Stacks of unopened mail. Watch for this, as the letters might be unpaid bills and/or solicitations for sweepstakes. Both are problematic.
- Complaining about money. If your folks seem to be always low on cash, or say “no” to activities that they usually enjoy, talk to them. They might need your help for a number of reasons, whether it’s reconciling accounts or remembering how to pay bills, or if they even paid them.
- Physical setbacks. Fading vision can impede driving to the bank and arthritis can be painful while writing checks or typing on the keyboard. Whatever ailment your parents might suffer from, this could be a cue that they need your assistance.
- Memory problems. This is somewhat self-explanatory, but specific things to look for are not knowing what day or year it is, or just forgetting things that your parents once always remembered.
Start slowly. Instead of charging in and announcing that you’re taking control, take baby steps. Maybe offer to write checks for them. Or offer to pay a bill or two. Gradual, gentle steps make them feel more at ease and comfortable with the new way of doing things.
Gather important documents. Things to collect are account numbers, credit card info, birth certificates, insurance policies, deeds and wills. Make sure they’re all current and up-to-date. Put them in a secure location so you’ll have easy access when you need them.
Consider power of attorney. This is key. Even if your parents don’t need your help at the moment, there will come a time when they will. There are several types of POA to consider: financial, medical or general decisions. Unlike written consent, this gives you legal authority to act on their behalf when they’re unable to.
Communicate what’s going on. Once you’ve started to manage your parents’ finances, keep your siblings, as well as theirs, in the loop. This way, if you’re unable to handle something, you can ask for backup support.
Keep your finances separate. It might be the easiest thing to do – mix your parents’ finances with yours – but in the long run, it’s not such a good idea. It can become a slippery slope. Granted, there may be times when your parents need a loan, but for the sake of clarity and personal record-keeping, it’s best not to jeopardize your own retirement and savings goals.
If you need more help, reach out to the National Alliance for Caregiving. As we all know, the circle of life is inevitable. But caring for your parents might be one of the most important things you’ll ever do – and chances are, you’ll want to get it right.