Trying to help parents with their finances can be frustrating. We may see clearly what we think our parents should do, yet they may refuse.
When it comes to parents and their money, adult children need to tread lightly. Parents may resent their children’s interference. They may fear they will lose their independence. We need to remember, our parents are adults and have the legal right to make their own decisions about all aspects of their lives including housing, health care and money. Yet when you fear for your parents’ health and safety and they refuse to budge, what can you do?
Here are lessons I have learned in my years working with clients of all ages. (Fifty-year-olds can be just as stubborn as ninety-year-olds.)
Breathe deep, muster up patience, and expect some things will take time. While you may clearly see what Dad should do, if that action is not on his to-do list, it may take time for him to be willing to make a move. Perhaps he doesn’t understand why he should take a specific action. Or he may resent you “sticking your nose” into his business. Maybe he has a private, unvoiced emotional reason why he won’t agree to act. People need time to think about and accept changes, especially ones they did not initiate. You, meanwhile, need to be patient.
Drop the subject. Bring it up again later. Ask about the objection to your idea. When I began working with Beverly, I found many undeposited dividend checks around her house. Most were too old to deposit. I suggested she arrange for direct deposit to her checking account. I received an immediate and strong, “No!” I dropped the subject and brought it up again a few weeks later. Again the idea was rejected. The third time, I asked Beverly about her objection. I learned she had a negative experience with companies auto drafting bill payments from her account. Once I understood this, I was able to clarify the difference between auto-deposits and auto-drafts. Beverly was then willing to consider direct depositing the dividend checks.
Explain the consequences. Ann had dementia. Her daughter saw she was struggling and asked her to hire me to help with paperwork and bill paying. Initially Ann rejected the idea. Her daughter was able to tell Ann she feared if Ann did not accept help to pay her bills, eventually her utilities would be turned off and she would be forced to move to assisted living. Thinking assisted living was the dreaded nursing home of her parents’ generation, Ann reluctantly agreed to accept help. With assistance, Ann was able to remain in her home a few more years.
Present your ideas as something to think about, rather than orders and ultimatums. Then give your parent time to process and think. Peggy owned rental properties. She was also in the early stages of dementia. When the rent checks arrived, she hid them in books to keep them from being stolen. It was a treasure hunt to find them each month and sometimes I needed to call the tenants and request replacement checks. Rather than telling her she had to have the checks sent to me so I could deposit them, I asked Peggy to consider this idea. I explained although the books may seem like a safe place, the checks were getting lost. She needed the money in her checking account to pay property taxes and other bills. It was also unfair to the tenants to not have their checks deposited quickly. After she had time to process this information, Peggy agreed to have the tenants send me their checks. Each month I presented her with a photocopy of the rent checks and a deposit slip.
Consider whether it is best to leave things alone. David, who was in his 90’s, was sending $2,000 a month to his sixty-something year-old son. At the same time, David’s assets were quickly dwindling. Clearly, it made no sense for David to be giving away money to an adult who was close to his own retirement. Yet David would not consider discontinuing the checks. He worried his son could not otherwise afford his expensive medications. When I stepped back and looked at the overall situation, I decided to let it go. David was ill and wasn’t expected to live much longer. He felt strongly about giving his son money. In the end, he lived only another nine months.
Most of my ideas take time (sometimes months) and loads of patience. What if your parent doesn’t have the luxury of time? First, be clear on whether your parent truly needs to act now or whether it is your wish for him to make a move sooner. If he really does need to move quickly, ask your parent’s advisors for help. His accountant, attorney or investment advisor may be able to intervene. Many seniors have a trusted advisor with whom they have a strong relationship. Often the senior will listen this professional.
The names of individuals mentioned in this blog have been changed. This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice. Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.