For the past eight years Shirley, age 77, has been handling the family finances for herself and her husband Joe. A former CPA, Joe had handled the couple’s money, but the tremors from his Parkinson’s restricted his ability to write checks or use online banking and the mild dementia Joe experiences left him confused with the daily details of managing finances.
Recently, Shirley shared with her best friend that she was feeling stressed about handling the couple’s financial affairs. The couple’s CDs were maturing and Shirley didn’t have a good idea of how or where to invest the proceeds. She was also having difficulty deciphering their medical insurance statements.
In the past if she had questions Shirley would call her nephew, but he’d recently moved out of the area. She figured she needed some help soon, before she made some irreversible mistakes.
Shirley is representative of the 29 percent of seniors (studies vary) who require assistance handling their money and financial affairs.
Reasons may include mental, visual or physical impairments such as dementia, glaucoma or severe arthritis. Other causes may include the loss or incapacity of a spouse who handled the finances.
The end result for a senior who is no longer able to manage their financial affairs but continues to operate in that capacity can be devastating. If a senior forgets to pay their bills, they may run the risk of losing their home to foreclosure, get evicted or risk having their utilities shut off. Vulnerable seniors who need help managing finances may also fall victim to scams and get cheated out of large sums of money.
There are a number of ways to evaluate if a loved one needs help with money management. Do you see signs of forgetfulness or confusion? Take a look around their home. Are there piles of unopened mail or unfiled papers? Do you see past-due notices?
If you can, take a look at the person’s checkbook or bank statement. Are there double or missing entries for monthly utility expenses?
Are there unusual large payments? Are the checkbook and bank statements missing?
Is your loved one overspending on things like the lottery, contests or items from television shopping programs?
Fortunately, Shirley recognized her own limitations, but if you plan to bring up the subject with a loved one, it’s important to approach the subject of financial assistance with sensitivity. Some seniors may be embarrassed, while others may be afraid to give up control. Other seniors may be in denial, while some are fearful that the person inquiring is out to steal their money.
If you’ve determined a loved one is in need of assistance, it’s important to give the senior only the support they need. In Shirley’s case, she is comfortable paying the bills but feels she needs help making investment decisions. Others may need help managing their spending or actually writing the checks.
If assistance is required, you have a few tools to help.
•Consider joint accounts or single owner accounts with an authorized signer. Ask the bank for more details to see if one of these might be a good solution for your situation.
•Help your loved one to set up automatic payments for recurring monthly bills.
• Become a representative payee for Social Security benefits. Visit http://www.ssa.gov/payee/
•Has your loved one designated a Financial Power of Attorney? Visit http://www.nolo.com/legalencyclopedia/durable-financialpower of-attorney-29936.html
•Consider professional help with a Daily Money Manager. Visit http://www.nolo.com/legal encyclopedia/daily-moneymanagement programs- seniors 32269.html
•See if the AARP money management program for low-income seniors is available in your area. Visitwww.aarpmmp.org
In situations where a family member or third party need to take a more active role in the other person’s financial affairs, oversight and monitoring is very important.
Consider having one party write the checks while another party balances the checkbook. By segregating duties, you have a better chance of avoiding any actual or perceived financial abuse while assisting a loved one with their financial affairs.