My parents aren’t exactly elderly yet, so I’m not terribly worried about how they’re doing with money. However, before my grandfather died I saw what an impact his diminishing judgment had on my parents, and I see the impact my husband’s grandmother’s finances are having on my in-laws.
Luckily, in both cases, smart decisions are being made with respect to helping elderly relatives better manage their finances. Not everyone is in such good shape, however. There are plenty of mistakes that can be made as you try to do what’s best for your elderly parents. In some cases, these mistakes can actually harm your finances as well.
5 Mistakes to Avoid
Here are 5 mistakes to avoid as you help your elderly parents navigate their finances:
1. Failure to Recognize Problems
We don’t like to think of our parents getting old and losing some of their faculties. However, it’s important to be on the alert for signs that things might be heading in the wrong direction. Some of the indications that your elderly parents might need help with their finances include:
- Overdue bills
- Forgetting important dates or bills
- Writing checks, or sending money, to just about any cause
- Decisions that don’t match up with long-term financial goals
- Hard time remembering financial transactions
- A large amount of automatic debits coming from the checking account
- Increased amount of products from informercials
- Large amounts of junk mail and subscriptions
These are indications that decision-making abilities have been diminished. You also need to be on the lookout for scams. According to the Investor Protection Trust, 20% of Americans over the age of 65 have fallen victim to financial swindles. My grandpa was one of those.
Recognize the signs that something might be wrong, and prepare to step in. If you have siblings, you should discuss the situation with them, and work together to take joint action to protect your parent’s finances.
2. Poor Record Keeping
You need to keep good records of what is going on, and why. This is important for ensuring that your elderly relative’s finances stay on track. But that’s not all. Good records can protect you. You need to show your reasoning for taking certain steps. This is especially important if you have family members that you will have to make an account to.
Good records can also help you stay on top of which subscriptions have been cancelled, and which companies you need to contact to make changes. Keep everything straight so that you can do your best with your relative’s finances.
3. Merging Accounts and Credit
At first, it seems like a good idea to have a joint account with mom, or co-sign dad’s credit cads. That way, you have control over what happens, and you know exactly what is happening with the money. However, this is not a step that makes a lot of sense.
First of all, once you join your accounts and credit, you become more directly responsible for your parent’s finances. If your dad can’t pay off his credit card debt, and you are on the account, you become liable for that debt. And, the debt remains yours, even after your parent dies.
On joint accounts, you end up with problems because it’s hard to tell where your property and your parent’s property diverge. This can cause ill will and other issues when your siblings wonder why you have your hands on mom’s money, but they don’t get access. Another problem is that if your relative is sued, you can be liable, since you have a joint account.
Instead, you can arrange to be a signatory on the account. You don’t own the checking account, but you can sign checks for bills. It’s also possible to be notified, as an authorized user, of what’s happening with a credit card account. Find out how you can stay involved, while keeping finances separate.
4. Depriving Your Parents of Everything
Be careful not to take everything away. Your parents still need some dignity and independence. Provide a credit card with a low limit, or a prepaid debit card, that can be used. Consult your parents in decisions, and talk to them about what you want to do. Share your advice in a kind, but non-patronizing way, and you will be more likely to help, and avoid making your parents feel as though they have lost everything.
5. Failure to Get Help and Support
Don’t assume that you can do it all on your own. Call in outside help if you need it. There are qualified estate planners who can help you get your parents’ affairs back in order, as well as caregivers who can help take some of the pressure off. You don’t want to make a financially fatal misstep, and you certainly don’t want to burnout when caring for your parents.