About the author: Jeff Rose is a Certified Financial Planner™ and co-founder of Alliance Investment Planning Group. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, having served in the National Guard. His blog, Good Financial Cents, covers financial planning and investment related topics.
As a kid, there’s no greater comfort in having your parents there to pick you up when you fall. But what happens when the role reverses, and now you become the care taker of your elderly parents. Most parents will never admit to you that they need help keeping track of their finances. Admitting help is a sign of giving in and succumbing to their elder age and for many seniors is a hard pill to swallow. Down the road it may be a necessity to assist them in their finances, but it’s not too early to start the money discussions today.
Usually it will take some sort of medical emergency before both parent and child realize that they both need to be on the same page with the financial situation. I’ve seen client instances where suddenly deceased parents left their children to sort through the financial mess that’s left behind. It’s the equivalent of setting out on a long hiking trip without compass and map, having no clue where to begin or where you are going. If you think a parent is in need of help, start looking for signs. If they start complaining about misplaced bills, bouncing checks and unpaid electricity bills, it might just be time to step in.
Get the picture
You need to sit down with your parents to find out their whole situation. They should have in place several essential documents, including a will, living will and separate durable power of attorney for health care and financial decision making. If they have setup a trust, you should know where the trust documents are and who has been appointed trustee. If they have a safe or safety deposit box, you need to know where and what’s located in there. I’ve seen instances where clients parents had Cd’s and other investments spread over dozens of different banks and brokerage firms. Getting on the same page will save countless hours of frustration once your parents are gone.
Find out what the monthly income and expenditures are and make sure a usable budget is in place. By knowing what they spend their money on each month, you’ll be able to better assist them going forward.
Make things simple
If your parent has a plethora of plastic in their wallet, it’s time to start cutting the cards up and consolidating. Find the one with the lowest interest rate, and transfer all the cards to them. If they have department store cards, do your best to pay them off if the funds are available.
It might also be time to introduce some technology in their life with online banking. If you’re comfortable with this option, you’ll be able to streamline this so you can set up direct deposits, automatic bill pay and even have outside investment pay their dividends and interest into their checking/or savings accounts. I once had a elderly senior client who didn’t need his social security checks, so he just let them accumulate. Last time I checked he had almost 9 months of accumulated checks still not cashed. I could only imagine if something had happened to him and how hard it would be for his family to sort through his finances.
If your parents are computer savvy, develop a bill paying calendar and remind your parents to write checks. If it’s pass that point, you might have to write the checks yourself.
Find a money manager
Choosing the right person to manage the money might be tough. Handling your own finances is tough enough, by taking on somebody else’s can be overwhelming. Somebody that lives close might be the logical answer, but you also want to make sure that person has a handle on their own finances first. If you are the only child, it maybe your burden to bare, but don’t forget about close family friends or even a friendly close neighbor that might be there for support. There are even money management services that will take on the task of paying the bills on time. Before hiring one, be sure to thoroughly inspect the actually costs and fees of their program.
If a bill payer is required, check out the American Association of Daily Money Managers. Depending on your parents’ situation, you may also need to hire an elder care attorney to help with estate planning and to help assist them. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys can point you to qualified experts to help out. I’ve worked with elder care attorney that was able to greatly assist some clients whose father was in assisted living. When all else fails, there are even Certified Financial Planners that will assist in these sort of situations.
Have you had to help an elderly parent with their finances? If so, share your story on what you did to help out.
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Published or updated April 12, 2009.