Barbara’s mother called in a panic. Her power had been shut off.  Barbara contacted the electric company and learned her elderly mother had not paid her bills in several months. Barbara, who lives in another state, made an emergency trip sort out her mother’s affairs. She learned other utilities had not been paid and last year’s tax returns had not been filed. Barbara was unaware that her mother’s ability to manage her finances had deteriorated.
Some elders reach a point where they need help managing their financial affairs. Fearing a one-way ticket to the nursing home or an invasion of privacy, many do not ask for help. Left unnoticed and unattended, however, financial problems can develop and quickly spiral out of control.
Here are some clues Mom and Dad may need help:

  • Repeated statements they do not receive any mail, especially bank statements or bills.
  • Talk of new close friends and “can’t fail investments.”
  • Out-of-character purchases and new expensive hobbies, regardless of whether your parents have the resources to pay for them.
  • The same questions asked repeatedly, especially when you answered it a few minutes ago.
  • Piles of mail scattered around the house or mail in unusual places – such as stuffed into books or kitchen drawers.
  • Unopened checks, bills, statements, correspondence from insurance companies, and other financial mail.
  • A checkbook register with repeated or missing check numbers, incorrect balances, missing deposits, a lack of regular payments to utility companies, numerous and repetitive charitable donations, and checks repeatedly written to individuals and organizations you don’t recognize. (Respect your parents and ask to look at your their checkbook register before you do. If you are unfamiliar with a payee, ask for what the payment was made. You will want to rule out whether someone is taking advantage of them.)
  • Arthritic hands, failing eyesight, and loss of hearing, making it physically challenging to pay bills, maintain checkbooks, and initiate telephone calls.
  • Difficulty walking or no longer driving with no reliable, safe alternatives for your parents to get to the bank, post office, accountant, and other places to conduct personal business.

What can you do if you believe your parents need help managing their finances? Begin with communication. Express your concerns and why you have them. It is important to remember many elders do not like to discuss their money with others, especially their children. Respect that your parents are adults. The goal is to help them be as independent as possible, not to take control of their money.
Some seniors are quite willing and relieved to have a family member take over their financial affairs. Others are not. Legally, you cannot force your parents to accept help unless they are found incompetent by a court of law. If you firmly believe that your parents need help and they refuse, seek the support of a professional. Sometimes people will respond if their attorney, accountant or investment advisor, whom they know and trust, tells them to accept help. Their physician may recommend an evaluation. Geriatric care managers can assess Mom and Dad’s situation and determine what type of assistance they need.
In Barbara’s case, she was able to arrange for a professional to help her mother with mail, bill payments, and cash management. Barbara, who was her mother’s agent by power of attorney, took over working with her mother’s investment advisor. With these supports, her mother was able to remain living independently in her home.
Talking to parents about their money is difficult for most people. It is essential to intervene, however, when their parents are losing the ability to manage their finances. When an individual has dementia, the ability to handle financial affairs is one of the first skill sets to deteriorate. But, most people are able to remain living independently longer when they receive help with their money affairs. By paying attention to clues, you will know when it’s time to step in.
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. The names of the individuals in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.