Helping aging parents manage their money

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Many seniors may be reluctant to accept advice or help from their children, or even discuss living expenses, health care plans, investments, or general estate planning. Sadly, postponing that discussion can increase the difficulty of tackling whatever problems may eventually arise.

What’s behind parental reluctance?
People are living longer, if they’re still active and involved, they may have difficultly accepting that their current good health and financial comfort may not always continue.

Also, some seniors may be reluctant to discuss finances because it can reinforce a sense of loss; this could be especially true if they can no longer drive or participate in activities they enjoy. Admitting that they need help with financial issues may make them feel as though one more area is no longer under their control. If this is the case, they might respond to the idea that addressing important issues now — planning for ill health or incapacity — could give them greater decision-making power over their quality of life later. If they’re uncomfortable discussing finances with you, you could suggest working with a third party who can review their situation and make recommendations that could then be discussed jointly.

When to offer help
Here are some signs that a parent might need some assistance: confusion about whether direct-mail offers are advertising or bills; failing to pay bills or file documents properly; complaints about being unable to make ends meet; talking about the merits of certain investments; and unusual behavior, such as making unexpected large purchases or gambling.

Be sure to rule out other physical problems, such as an infection or difficulties with vision or hearing, before assuming that mental confusion is automatically a sign of dementia.

A start is better than nothing
If parents are reluctant to discuss specific figures, try to make sure key information, including online account information and passwords, are on paper, and that someone else knows the location of those items and will be able to access them if necessary.

Consider providing assistance in stages. Offer to review checking account statements and/or credit card bills to ensure they’re not paying for services they want to cancel or didn’t request, this may give you insight into the overall state of their finances. Because seniors may be more willing to discuss issues such as health insurance and preference regarding long-term care of end-of-life decisions before other topics, building trust in these areas could increase comfort levels with other matters.

If a trust has been set up, a trustee might be the logical person to handle finances, since he or she may eventually have to deal with trust-related issues anyway. The same is true of someone who has been granted durable power of attorney, even if he or she doesn’t yet have full responsibility for managing finances. In a worse-case scenario, children can petition a probate court to name a conservator or guardian. Whatever approach you take, one of the key challenges is to respect a parent’s dignity while protecting his or her ongoing wellbeing. 

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016. 

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