An estimated 34 million Americans are now caring for an aging loved one in some manner. You may be worried that one day, you too will have to assist your parents with money management, moving to senior housing or getting help in their home.
Many people find their aging parents need assistance handling their finances. Perhaps there have been warning signs such as stacks of bills unpaid, unopened mail or creditors harassing calls. You may want to offer assistance but some seniors feel it is an intrusion into their lives. Maybe they won’t admit that they need some help. Letting go of their independence can be interpreted as loss of dignity for them.
One of the first steps you can take is to call a family meeting. Find out what your parents’ financial situation really is at the current time. This will help you assess what steps they have taken, what their concerns are and who can help if necessary.
The ideal time to call this meeting is before there are money problems and while they still have options to ensure their financial stability and independence. According to Elinor Ginzler, the author of “Caring for your Parents” the indirect approach is usually best. Try not to overwhelm them. Assure them that you want to help them on their terms and that you are not taking control of their lives. Your parents may welcome your help.
STRATEGIES FOR HELPING YOUR PARENTS
- Simplify their lives. Arrange for direct deposit of their Social Security and pension payments. This will eliminate trips to the bank and possible theft from their mailbox.
- Set up automatic payments for routine expenses such as utilities and health insurance premiums.
- Ask your parents if they would consider adding your name to their accounts. If something happens (such as hospitalization), you will be allowed to continue paying bills by having your name as a co-signor. Check with your parents’ attorney as a precaution to be sure this does not conflict with their estate planning as the account will most likely pass to you upon their death.
- Hire help as needed. You may not be able or willing to give your parents as much time and/or assistance as they need. There are qualified daily money managers who can come into your parents’ home and help with bill payments, organization of documents and financial paperwork. Typical rates are from $35 -$70 per hour. You can get referrals for persons in your area from the American Association of Daily Money Managers at www.aadmm.com
- Home health care agencies. There are many types of services from simple homemaking chores to personal care attendants. Check your local directory listings.
Having a plan in place is key. As difficult as it is to think about your mom or dad being incapacitated by illness, it would be worse if a crisis occurred and you did not have a plan in place or had to obtain court orders to assist them. Be sure your parents have consulted with an attorney to obtain both financial powers of attorney and health care directives. For example, with a health care directive they can specify whether they want to be buried or cremated and whether they want measures taken to keep them on life support. These documents allow their wishes to be carried out if they become incapacitated.
Let them maintain as much control over their lives as possible. Unless they cannot make decisions for themselves, keep them in the loop for finding professional help. After all, you want someone who will work well with them and vice versa. There are many attorneys whose primary focus is Elder Law. A good resource is the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys www.naela.org.