Watching Over Your Parents’ Finances Without Robbing Them Of Their Dignity

In the world of families and money J.D. Roth is a big player.  He has written every single day about personal finances on his blog for years.

And yet, one day his mother who suffers from mental illness, drove her car through the back of her garage.  J.D. was baffled.

JD Roth

You are not alone.  If the guy who writes about financial topics for a living is overwhelmed by an aging parent, millions are facing the same challenges.

It’s normal to feel scared and terrified by what might happen.  I’ll walk you through what you can do about it.

 

Role Reversal

One of the most shocking parts of caring for an increasingly elderly parent is the role reversal.  All of sudden you find yourself needing to consider at-home arrangements, check in on doctor’s visits and help with the bills.

Particularly for those of us who are professionals and are used to checklists and a structure this can be scary.

“Will Mom accidentally give away money to someone?”

“Is Dad a potential victim of fraud?”

“How can I be sure if Dad is paying all of his bills?”

If you live in another state or hours away by car this can be a real concern.

I have worked with my own parents about organizing their finances and the results have been powerful.  We know the overall financial picture.  We have set up systems to monitor any out of the norm activity.  We have reviewed options to increase income and decrease expenses if needed.

I want to walk you through what I have learned and deliver massive results for you.

 

“My Brother Deals With That”

Siblings often split responsibilities in caring for an elderly parent.  This is natural.  However one of the phrases I often hear with regards to money is:

“Oh, my brother deals with that part.”

What’s underneath this comment is ‘I’m scared of money and I feel small because I’m not proud of how I have dealt with my own money.’

Let me assure you now THIS IS SOMETHING YOU CAN DO.  You have the ability.  I promise.  You also may not have a brother or sister who takes care of the money.  It may be you pulling the full load and you have fears.  That’s ok.

I will walk you through clear and easy to understand steps of how to monitor your parent’s finances.  You will feel EMPOWERED and confident that you can protect your parents from financial fraud or getting hurt.

And what you’ll find as your familiarity goes up your confidence will go up too.  You’ll see yourself doing the hard work and pushing through.  You’ll BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN.  You’ll know that you’re capable.

Great.  Let’s get started.

 

How To Protect Your Parent’s Finances Better Than 99% Of Americans

I want to add IMMEDIATE VALUE and start the IMPACT FOR YOU RIGHT NOW.  As I look across all of the potential solutions to monitor your parent’s finances, what drives the most value?  If I asked you to do one or two things what would they be?

Would it be to sit down with you parents and ask them this question:

‘Mom, I’m concerned about your financial position and I think you should give me total control over your finances.’

Would that work?

Of course not!  You might get thrown out of the room!

Instead I want to suggest two strategies that will give you a great deal of insight but won’t rock the boat too much.  Both will ensure that your mother RETAINS HER INDEPENDENCE and you will be able to MONITOR and PROTECT her.

Strategy #1: Get Access To Online Checking Accounts

All you need is their password and log in.  You may need to work with them to set this up.  It’s easier than you may think.

Banks will allow you to set up online access for the for the first time IN 5 MINUTES WITHOUT WALKING INTO A PHYSICAL BANK.  This surprises many people but it’s true.

All you need is a few key pieces of information.  You will need your parent’s social security or Tax ID number, the number of either their credit card or debit card, and a working email or phone.

Here’s why this approach is so valuable.

You don’t need a complex legal document.  You don’t need to go to court.  All you need is a candid brief conversation with your loved one (which we will walk through later).

Let’s say you live in another state.  Dad’s mental capacity has been dwindling (which often shows first in financial errors).  You’re concerned he may forget to pay his rent.  Now you’ll know if he does.  You’re concerned he’s participating in too many sweepstakes.  Now you’ll know if he does.

Getting access to your loved one’s primary account will open up an entire world of information.  You can do it from far away, cheaply and quickly.

This is worth pushing for.  It will definitely require a conversation with your loved one.  But this single step will TRANSITION YOU FROM NOT KNOWING TO KNOWING.

You will be able to spot errors or fraud and take corrective action quickly.

Strategy #2: The Anti-Fraud Approach

Why stop at one strategy?   You have great momentum right now.  Let’s keep going!

Right now, today you can take one clear action that will put a major dent in anyone’s ability to defraud your loved one.  Just like online bank accounts within minutes you can increase your loved one’s protection by 2X or 3X.

What is the secret?

BLOCK INFORMATION FROM THEIR CREDIT AGENCIES.  With a small note or online submission you can ask your parent’s credit agencies to block any future credit inquiries.

The impact will be MASSIVE.  No one can use your parent’s information to open a new credit card, to start a loan, or to make a major purchase.

Here’s how it works.  There are three credit agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.  They rate your credit.  Combined together they make your credit score.

If you ever want to open up a new credit card the credit card company “pings” the credit agencies to see your credit.  They look at your score to see how well you have paid bills in the past.  They see how much outstanding loans you have.

They then use this information to determine your interest rate on your new credit card and how much credit they will extend to you each month.

The same thing is true of a home loan.  It’s the exact same process for a car loan.

Blocking your credit agencies is preventing any outside party from pulling your credit.  They can’t see anything without your permission.  As a result, they won’t give you (or your loved one) a loan.

Many people don’t even know this is possible.  However it’s a core pillar of identity theft protection.

How long does it take?

10 minutes!  That’s it.  (And it’s completely reversible whenever you want).

You can speak with your family about taking this action.  However I want to give you the full set of information now.  I want you to be able to execute whole process today if you want to.

You just need a few pieces of basic information: full name, address, social security number and date of birth.  Each agency will ask you a few questions about past credit events (e.g., in what year your loved one bought a home) so you want to do it with your parent in the room or on the phone

  • Equifax – Click Here! – snail mail required
  • Experian – Click Here! – 100% online
  • Trans Union – Click Here! – 100% online

I know we’ve jumped in quickly but I WANT TO ENABLE YOU WITH IMMEDIATELY EFFECTIVE ACTION STEPS.  Monitoring your parent’s bank accounts and locking their credit history has a massive impact upon their financial security.

Now let’s take the next step.  Let’s look at what different holistic approaches you can take to watch over your loved one’s finances.

 

Having The Talk

To take action on many of the steps in this post you will need to speak with your parents.  You are their advocate and have their best interests in mind.  However, in the end it is their financial future.

This can bring up a series of intense emotions.  I often hear phrases like:

‘We’ve talked about money a little bit, but it’s always so hard.’

‘My father never sat me down to teach me about money when I was a kid.  It just feels awkward.’

‘My father hates the idea of being dependent on anyone.’

The FEELINGS ARE NORMAL.  Many people share them.  I want to enable you with some of the language to use to open the conversation.  The beginning can often be the hardest part.

One fantastic opener comes from Michelle Perry Higgins.  In an article for the WSJ she shares this approach:

“I just met with my financial planner (or estate planner) and she brought up a few questions about my own estate that made me wonder if you also have these issues.  I would appreciate your insight on these issues, and I also want to see if you need help in any of these areas. Can we sit down and talk about this on Tuesday at 6pm?”

Scheduling a specific time is important.  It increases your chance of actually having the conversation.

Start by sharing your own experience.  Share how you have been thinking about your own finances.

A FANTASTIC method that Michelle demonstrates here is to ASK THEM FOR THEIR ADVICE FIRST.

After you have discussed their views ask them what their concerns are for their own situation.  Be honest with them about how you feel and suggest a few options.

In this post we will discuss several more topics and walk through specific strategies.  However starting the conversation is the most important step.  You may not be able to complete everything in that first sitting, but it opens the door.

Great work!

 

The 3 Phases Of Taking Over Your Parent’s Finances

We have discussed the two highest value strategies and how to begin the conversation with your parents.

However with time your involvement in their financial life will only increase.  Today you are checking in and monitoring.  However in the future you may need to take on a larger role.

There are three phases to that transition.  I’d like to walk you through each and EXACTLY HOW YOU CAN CONTINUE TO PROTECT THEIR FINANCES & SAFETY.

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Protecting Your Parent’s Finances

Fraud is a common threat to the elderly.  LET’S NAIL THIS.  I WANT TO GIVE YOU THE BEST, MOST EFFECTIVE TOOLS OUT THERE TO COMBAT FRAUD.

The great thing is that the vast majority of them are 100% free.  It may take a bit of work but it’s worth it.  You’ll sleep better and your loved one will be protected.

We have already spoken about the #1 method to avoid large scale fraud, block your credit agencies.  If you haven’t done this I strongly recommend starting with this step.

A large number of elder fraud comes through the mail or by phone.  Below are the specific organizations that combat this fraud.  I have also outlined exactly what actions you can take.

Direct Marketing Association Choice – Snail Mail

  • Enter your loved one’s information
  • Block direct marketing advertisers inquiries sent through the mail

Direct Marketing Association Choice – Email

  • Same as above

Do Not Call List – Phone

  • Enter phone number and contact information
  • Remove from call list

Cell Phone

  • Remove the land line and purchase your loved one a cell phone
  • There are fewer fraudulent phone calls on cell phones
  • Checkout out Jitterbug5. Bonus of 24/7 access to nursing care if needed

This very well may be sufficient for you at this time.  Your Mom may still be independent and some minor protective steps like those above can meet both of your needs.  Great job!

However if you’re facing a more severe situation you may want to take further action.

LET’S TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL.  Sadly the elderly can actively participate in scams and fraudulent activity as their mental cognition becomes increasingly impaired.  They are also more easily taken advantage of.

Advanced Fraud Protection:  6 Ironclad Steps

Step 1: Change Phone Numbers – Change your parent’s phone number and put them on the do not call list.  Switch them entirely from the lists of the marketers who want to take advantage of them.

Step 2: Call Western Union And Put Your Parents On The “Do Not Wire” List – 800-448-1492.  A great number of scams ask people to wire funds.  You can never get the money back.  More info here.

Step 3: Bring Fraudulent Mail To The Post Office – After placing your parents on the Do Not Mail List bring examples of fraudulent mail to the post office that’s still getting through.

Steps 4 & 5 – Enlist Free Advocates – You have advocates.  There are two primary ones that will actively call your parents for you and speak to them for free.

  • AARP’s Fraud Fighter Center – contract them at 800-646-2283 or email Jean Mathisen, the program director at jmathisen@aarp.org
  • Attorney General’s Office – Search for your state’s contact info

Step 6 – Reroute Your Parent’s Mail To You – This can allow you to pass along the relevant mail to your parents (e.g., credit card statement).

Make sure you have a strong relationship with any at home healthcare aids.  They can let you know if they see anything on the ground.

 

Monitoring Your Parent’s Finances

Many people are comfortable with monitoring a parent’s bank account, checking in by phone and taking a few minor steps to prevent fraud.

I think this is great!

You can feel free to get back to your life.  A critical thing to remember as your care for your parent is that YOUR LIFE MATTERS.  YOUR INDEPENDENCE MATTERS.

(The great thing is when you and your Mom or Dad reaches the next phase you can come right back and check in on what some of the more advance steps are.)

However for those of you who may be facing a more challenging situation keep reading.  We’ll go through the EXACT STEPS IN DETAIL and ENABLE YOU to EFFECTIVELY PROTECT YOUR PARENTS.

We have already spoken about monitoring your parent’s bank accounts online.  This is the first step and a simple method to monitor her activity.  However there are some limits to this approach.

The next step you want to pursue DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR FINANCIAL MATTERS.  J.D. Roth calls the durable power of attorney a flaming sword of justice.  It is fantastic and simple!  When you boil it all down it’s a 3 to 5 page sheet of paper.  It’s brilliant.

Now you may be saying:

‘Durable power of attorney…wait what?’

I know it sounds like legal mumbo jumbo.  It’s normal to feel confused.  We’ll DYMISTIFY EVERYTHING INTO 5 SIMPLE STEPS so you know what it is, how it works, and how you can set it up.

Step 1: Familiarize Yourself:

A durable power of attorney is a legal form that says you are able to actively participate in your parent’s finances.  It’s a short document and easy to complete.  After everyone has signed it you distribute it to financial institutions and they give you full access to your parent’s accounts.

Here are a few things you can do with a durable power of attorney:

  • Pay bills
  • Pay for healthcare costs
  • Move money from one account to another
  • Adjust retirement investments
  • Pay for medications

This financial flexibility to help your parent is hugely important.  Many families find it indispensable during a health crisis or as a parent loses full mental cognition.

Step 2: Speak With Your Parent:

SCHEDULE TIME.  Have an agenda and speak with them.  Here’s a great way to start:

“Mom, my financial advisor asked me who my back up person was if I fall ill for finances.  I wanted to chat with you about what you would like.”

Explain the basics to them.  You will be their backup.  You’re their right hand person.  If they have any major health events you can step in further.

Specifically mention that they can remove you as a legal power of attorney any time they wish.  It can always be reversed.  They can also nominate someone to monitor your activity with their finances (possibly another family member).

Speak to them about some of the concerns you have.  Talk to them about how you can help.

Step 3: Fill Out The Form

The forms are brief and to the point.  They ask both individuals to sign (the parent and the child).  The form says what specific role the child has.

  • Forms differ by state: Here is the form for New York
  • Need to be signed in front of a notary public
  • Effective upon signing (unless otherwise stipulated)

You need yourself, your loved one, an attorney to review it and a public notary.  IT MAY SEEM LIKE A BIT OF A HEADACHE BUT IT’S WORTH IT.  Once you complete it you will be able to help and help in a big way.  Then give a final copy of all documents to your lawyer for safekeeping.

Step 4: Distribute It To Financial Institutions

Send a photocopy of the form to the financial institutions with your parent’s major accounts.  This will inform them of your new role as your parent’s financial agent.  Don’t forget this step.  WITHOUT THE FORM THEY WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO DO ANYTHING.

Financial institution may require additional documentation.  For example, evidence of your birth certificate.  PUSH THROUGH THESE STEPS.  Stay focused on the prize.  IT’S WORTH IT.

Congratulations!  You’re doing a great job.

Step 5: Take Action

Move assets.  Pay bills.  Set up systems to monitor all of your parent’s activity across their major financial accounts.

A few areas to monitor:

  • Checking and savings accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Credit card activity
  • Credit score
  • Mortgage and other loans

The fantastic thing is that while you are first just monitoring and helping with minor items like paying bills you will be fully empowered to step in if needed.   This can be critical if you see fraud or your parent being taken advantage of.  You’ll be able to come in and stop  unhelpful activity more quickly.  You’ll be fully prepared in advance for the difficult challenges.

One critical thing is to sign with your parent’s name.  Here is an example:

“Rachel Thompson by Carla Williamson her Legal Power of Attorney”.  Rachel is the elderly Mom.  Carla is the daughter.

You’re all set.  Great work!

Bonus!

YOU ARE FAR FORM ALONE IN YOUR JOURNEY.  Below are some blogs of people just like you who are caring for their elderly parents and dealing with family challenges:

  • As Our Parents Age – Matri Weston talks about caring for her aging parents
  • Help! Aging Parents – Susan speaks about the experiences of caring for her mother-in-law and parents. Susan is experienced educator and counselor
  • Let’s Talk About Family – Touching blog about caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s

Fantastic!  Now your parent’s financial life is open and you can see where the money is moving.  This is huge!  You can also monitor to make sure there is no fraud.  And as soon as your parents need you to step in and directly help them with their finances you’re all set and ready to go.

 

Intervening In Your Parent’s Finances: How To Proceed With Guardianship

Near the end of life or full mental deterioration the elderly need a more hands-on approach.  The need someone directly managing their finances and major health decisions.

This is particularly true in the final stages of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This is profoundly sad and challenging time in a family’s life.

I often hear from people:

‘I have lost my Mom.  It’s the most awful thing I’ve ever felt.’

‘I feel like I have lost my life entirely.  Caring for my Mom is killing me.’

Not all situations are this bleak but the initial transition is heart wrenching.  If you are jumping into the process at this stage I first send you an ENORMOUS HUG.  This is profoundly challenging.

I know that one of the very last things you want to consider right now is financial or legal matters.  The very first thing I would recommend doing is finding help for you.  You’re doing a great job and you need support.

There are many active caregiver support communities online where you can CONNECT WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING THROUGH THE EXACT SAME THING YOU ARE.  A few of the best in my opinion are:

  • Agingcare.com – discussion boards are highly active with many caring people. You can participate anonymously if you wish.
  • Caregiving.com – the discussion boards are a bit hard to use. But the site is dedicated towards advice and love for caregivers.  Denise Brown runs it and is wonderful.  She has dedicated her life to providing caregivers with support.
  • Caring.com – experts in the field answer many of the questions on the site. A great place to go for more specific / technical questions.

You may be considering guardianship because your parent has lost cognition.  I often hear:

‘My mother just slipped into a coma but we cannot get access to here money.’

In cases like this a court needs to provide transfer guardianship to you or a family member.  Here’s exactly what that means:

 

Guardianship 101

Let’s get through the legal language and right to the basics.

What is guardianship?

Guardianship is the legal process by which one person takes over another person’s decision-making capacity due to a severe change in mental cognition.  It is often a process families pursue at the end of someone’s life.  A common example is with the elderly suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s.

What can a guardian do?

Common decisions include:

  • Where they live
  • End-of-life decisions
  • How their money is spent
  • Determination of medical treatments
  • Release of confidential information

How limited are a guardian’s powers?

The court determines this.  It is common for a court to limit control to a few areas.  For example, you may only be given power over healthcare decisions.  The court can also split the decision making power between multiple family members.

How long does the process take?

1 to 3 months.  Many states have an emergency process in the case of a financial or medical emergency.  However if there is a dispute or large family disagreements the process can take longer.

How does this differ from Legal Power of Attorney?

The decisions a guardian can make are broader and include things like where someone can live.    Guardianship may also require monitoring by the courts while Legal Power of Attorney does not.  Another key difference is that legal power of attorney can be revoked easily by the elderly person at any time they wish.  A reversal of guardianship would require a court order.

Do I need a lawyer?

Yes.  You technically don’t need one  in many states but it’s worth getting one.  The fees will be paid out of the estate (not your checkbook).  Check here to find an eldercare lawyer.

Make sure you talk with your siblings and family.  This is a shared responsibility.  Family is often spread across the country.  You deserve support and encouragement.  You can become each other’s best sounding boards and mutually grow through the experience.

I will cover the full steps of guardianship and how to execute it in another post.  At this point I want to say that you HAVE DONE AN EXCELLENT JOB!

Take a moment now and WRITE IN THE COMMENTS TWO THINGS THAT YOU HAVE LEARNED or two things that you are going to take action on.

If you want MORE HIGHLY USEFUL INFORMATION JUST LIKE THIS POST in the future SIGN UP FOR THE EMAIL LIST BELOW.

Published: February 19, 2015
By: JP Adams

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2 Responses to Watching Over Your Parents’ Finances Without Robbing Them Of Their Dignity

  1. Janis Harlow says:

    Great tips! I like the one on blocking Western Union wire transfers. For anyone with no time to manage Mom’s money, much less their own, you might consider hiring a Daily Money Manager…www.AADMM.com. It’s a solution that many are unaware of.

  2. JP Adams says:

    Thanks very much Janis! Hiring the right professionals is a good idea 🙂

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