Caregivers are constantly taking over new responsibilities in the lives of the seniors they care for. Since aging is a progressive process, more and more responsibilities will be assumed as the seniors in one’s care age. Such responsibilities may come to include cooking, cleaning, basic hygiene procedures, and transportation. Caregivers may take over aspects of seniors’ medical care, including monitoring medications, dressing wounds, and providing proper nutrition and helping with exercise. They may need to take over the management of a seniors’ finances.
Yet it is often difficult to know when a family member ought to step in and take on this sensitive role. These four warning signs will help signal that the time may be ripe to assume this responsibility.
Past Due Bills
If a family member notices significant mail or letters lying around the house, opened or unopened, it might be best to check them. If overdue bills are lying around, or a senior is receiving calls from creditors, family members may want to talk to the senior about bills and overall finances. Reputable financial and legal professionals may be able to expedite the process of managing a senior’s money, if that indeed becomes necessary.
Scammers frequently take advantage of seniors for various reasons; seniors today come from a generation that was taught to be more socially trusting of strangers, and they often have less experience with cyber-security and Internet banking/shopping than more youthful persons. They may have trouble spotting a scam, especially over the phone or in person, and are even more likely to be victims if they experience cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, which can cause confusion and memory loss.
If a senior is the victim of a scam, family members may notice money leaving his or her account for odd purchases, or for purchases which are never completed (items never show up or services are never rendered). Any unusual financial behavior should be seen as suspect, since scammers capitalize on confusion and lack of oversight from caregivers. A beginning point of overseeing a senior’s finances may be asking the senior to get in touch with a family member before paying for any item or service, particularly large ticket ones.
Confusion and Memory Loss
Cognitive disorders can often lead to poor decision-making, lapses in memory, and confusion. This is not just about the day of the week or the name of the family pet; older people with cognitive disorders can forget financial responsibilities, lose discernment as to people’s trustworthiness, or even make unwise and risky investments with their money. This can result in huge losses; it can put them in a state of default for loans or bills; it also makes seniors vulnerable to scammers, as discussed above.
It best to begin a discussion of when a family member or members should take over the senior’s finances when the elderly loved one is still in good cognitive health or on a “good day” for the person.
Small signs of complications arising may be when the senior has trouble balancing a checkbook or understanding bills or financial statements. When such signs begin to manifest, family members do well to offer help, for while seniors may be hesitant to ask for help or admit that they are struggling to manage their finances, most seniors who are aware of and accepting of their cognitive decline will accept the help they need.
Odd purchases are not always a sign of scammers; they may just be a sign that a senior is, more generally, mismanaging his or her money. If a brand-new car is purchased when the person rarely drives, or a sailboat shows up in the driveway when the senior lives far from a lake or ocean, or even online gambling fees begin to add up, it may be time for family members to get some help with the balance of money management. Most seniors are not huge spenders on luxury or unnecessary items, but some spend in binges or regularly spend more than what they have in their accounts and are at huge risk of running out of money before they run out of years. Since more seniors are retired, they cannot earn back money to pay off debt, and they risk having their homes or investments threatened by creditors. If a senior is not behaving responsibly with money, it is time to initiate the conversation about family members taking over financial management.
Some seniors will react negatively to the idea that they are no longer able to control their finances in the direct way they have for what has likely been decades. Family members should listen and be patient, but always advocate for the senior’s best interests—and those best interests are always that his or her finances be managed well. Family members should be open to compromises, such as doing monthly or weekly finance checks together or with an accountant. Seniors with cognitive disorders might also become suspicious or paranoid in the face of financial troubles; a physician or counselor may have helpful advice about how to best manage these feelings.
Campbell, Jesse. (November 13, 2013). When and how to take control of your parents’ finances. Money Management International: Blogging for Change, Available at http://www.moneymanagement.org/Community/Blogs/Blogging-for-Change/2013/November/When-and-how-to-take-control-of-your-parents-finances.aspx. Retrieved June 27, 2016.
The Diane Rehm Show. (February 27, 2014). Managing Your Elderly Parents’ Finances. Guest host: Elise Labott. Guests: Sally Hurme, AARP, Elizabeth Loewy, Elder Abuse Unit, New York County District Attorney’s Office, and Naomi Karp, Office for Older Americans, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Available at http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2014-02-27/managing-your-elderly-parents-finances. Retrieved June 27, 2016