November 28th, 2011 at 10:05 am
Bookmark and Share

Is it time to take over an elder’s finances?

by Judy Kirkwood

My neighbor, a single mother with an active 5-year-old and a stressful job, is trying to help her 70-something mother with her financial problems. But there is no financial solution. Her mother is obviously unable to handle her financial affairs.

“But she has always been irresponsible with her money,” says my friend. Yes, but this is the last round-up. Her mother is no longer working to bring in income. She has lost every asset that would have fueled her retirement years–several homes that were paid for. She spends money on unnecessary band-aid fixes–a new roof for a house that was built on a sinkhole will not help sell it. She has no idea where $80,000 in savings went.

My friend has a sister with her own financial problems and a brother who just had his second hip replacement so is out of work for a while. She seems to be the child who will be her mother’s caregiver and wants to take care of her, but her mother is not ready to admit there’s a problem.

Steps to managing an elder’s finances

The first step is to assess the situation with financial facts on hand, not undocumented comments by a parent who may not know what is going on with his or her money. Here are three ways to assist an elderly loved one with their finances.

  1. Locate tax returns. If you can’t ask to see IRS returns, do a little detective work and see if you can locate them. That should answer many of your questions as to income and expenses.
  2. Ask to help manage the checkbook. Volunteer to start paying bills, leaving your parent a small cash reserve for everyday expenses. Bargain to get control of the checkbook by pointing out how expensive overdraft fees are.
  3. Get Power of Attorney. Going to court to gain Power of Attorney by proving you parent is incompetent is a last resort. Talking about it in terms of relieving stress on your parent would be the first step. But before you do so, decide if that is really what you want to do.

Protecting a parent’s assets is a time-consuming job. Are you in a position to support your parent if they have no resources or to detach from them if they are broke? How high are the stakes? Financial security is very important to protecting the quality of life of our elderly loved ones. But there is so much emphasis on independence in our culture that it often trumps common sense, which would dictate that one who no longer understands where the money is going or what bills must be paid is incompetent.

All that is required is that you do your best, just as your parents did with you.

Posted in Caregiving, Other | 1 Comment »
Tags: ,

One Response to “Is it time to take over an elder’s finances?”

  1. Joanne Seminara

    Among other steps, one of the most important things you can do is to suggest that your elderly loved one execute a durable general power of attorney (POA). This document should be prepared by an elder law attorney for maximum benefit. This document allows one or more agents to “step into the shoes” of your loved one (the Grantor) and use or transfer assets for the benefit of the Grantor. Legal counsel should direct the transfer of assets so you do no create ineligiblity for benefits that may be needed. A POA is relatively inexpensive and may avoid the need for a guardianship petition in court should the person needing assistance become incompetent and later unable to handle his or her own affairs.

Leave a Reply