Q:  My husband just had a stroke and now has some memory problems. He had been taking care of all the household finances. How do I know where to start to figure out what bills to pay?

A:  Caring for your husband after a stroke can be all consuming. There is worry and stress about his health, his cognition, and his recovery. No doubt this alone is a lot to handle, and now you must also ensure the family finances are managed and do not fall into disarray.

Many couples delegate the finances to one spouse. This is common, and usually makes sense when one is better equipped with the skills and motivation to manage the money. This may work smoothly when both spouses are healthy, but can cause extra stress and troubles when one falls ill. If you have not been involved at all, you may not even know what accounts you hold, and what bills are monthly paid by check or auto paid online.  

It can be very overwhelming to start from scratch figuring out your financial situation. Start with gathering as much information as you can. Your husband may be able to direct you to where the information is kept, or you may have a financial planner who works with your family.

Start with what you can gather to get a picture of the situation. Triage and look first at the immediate needs. Start with your housing costs. Do you have a mortgage or rent to pay? Other bills with high penalty rates are property tax bills and IRS payments. Also think about any credit card bills that may have high penalties if not paid on time.

Check the mail and look for bills. Most businesses, even if on autopay, will send you a paper copy of your bill in the mail, unless you requested that they do not. The bill will say on it not to pay because it is on auto pay. Look at all bills carefully.

Aside from your housing costs, you can look for the electric bill, gas bill, water and sewer, trash, internet or cable bill, phone or cell phone bill, credit cards and insurance bills.

Consider if there is someone else in your life who can help you with this. If you have an adult child or close friend who is used to managing their own household finances, they may be able to help direct you.

If your husband is able to talk with you about the finances, explain that you hope to help temporarily and sharing tasks is part of the role of the spouse. Be mindful that he may feel badly that he is not able to complete his normal tasks and role. Allow him to help as much as possible, or as much as he wants to help. It may make it feel more comfortable to both of you if you consider this a partnership.

Also, you may find yourself having feelings of resentment towards your husband for not planning ahead to take care of the finances and sharing the information with you. This is normal when roles shift, and in an ideal world you would both have planned ahead. It is certainly a good reminder for you both to think about other roles you each hold and how to plan for them in the future.

Allow yourself to feel the feelings that come from a spouse’s illness, from needing to take over tasks that you are not familiar with, and from not knowing what the future will hold for your husband’s recovery. Take it one step at a time and make sure to get yourself support in the process. Reach out to loved ones to help you and take it slow. You are going through a lot and will need time to adjust and to find out what the next steps look like.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.


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