Many adult children experience that moment when they realize their aging parents are struggling with handling their finances. There were probably clues along the way—things the children may have missed or ignored simply because they didn’t want to believe it was time to talk about the financial supervision of their parents. Here are three signs that can help determine when the time is right:
1. Household, Hygiene, and Habits
The parents’ house is in disarray, food frequently goes bad in the refrigerator, and items are unrepaired, laundry piles up, housekeeping and personal hygiene are being ignored, and most tellingly, stacks of unopened mail, particularly bills and overdue notices, are strewn about.
You may notice spending behavior that is not historically typical of the senior—buying expensive items, multiple purchases of the same item, or frequent mention of money shortages when money had not previously been an issue.
All of these signs point to a decline in cognitive ability, and with it a decline in the ability to keep up with paying the bills on time and making sound financial decisions.
2. Creditor Calls
Caller ID logs on your parents’ phone should be checked regularly to see if creditors and bill collectors are calling about overdue payments. Also, look for repeat calls from credit card companies or other businesses that may have provided goods or services for your parents but have not been paid.
If you are familiar with your parents’ monthly billing cycle, review their checkbook to see if electric and gas service, trash pickup, cable TV bills, and insurance premiums are being paid on time.
3. Senior Scams
Caller ID logs are also a good place to start looking for signs of fraud and scams that prey on the elderly. Older adults tend to be more trusting, and eager to please the person on the other end of the line, and are prime targets for people seeking to take advantage of them.
Also, canceled checks can identify repeat requests for donations to organizations – Unfortunately, many of them are bogus fronts that sound like great causes to seniors but are run by scam artists. Some calls are even threatening and frightening. Here’s a short list of some scams out there:
- Sweepstakes mailings
- Vacation home offerings
- Fake charities
- Bogus investment opportunities
- Fake IRS threats
- Arrest threats for not paying a bill
- Counterfeit drug scams
- Supplemental insurance policies
- Fake anti-aging products
- Home repair scams
Who is Vulnerable?
People with declining cognitive abilities, including dementia, will have difficulty handling finances. Seniors on certain medications may have challenges as well. Seniors living alone can be overwhelmed by the desire to connect to another person—even if that person is a sales rep.
A consultation with your loved one’s physician may be in order to determine the competence of your loved one to handle financial matters.
And even if your senior loved one is not cognitively impaired, experts say that older adults frequently underestimate the anticipated costs of their healthcare, so having good information is a must in making decisions about the future.
When Do You Intervene?
Though you may be reluctant to step in and take on the role of financial oversight, it is best to do so early rather than after bills pile up, creditors threaten, and you are sorting through a financial situation that’s wastefully leaking precious resources.
And the sooner the discussion is held, the more likely it is that your parents can clearly express their wishes.
What Can You Do to Help a Senior with Finances?
Have an open and honest conversation with your senior loved ones and other members of your family about the situation.
You can explain to your seniors that the expenditures of money are becoming disorganized and used for things they do not need and causes they should not support. You can discuss phone solicitation dangers. However, if dementia is a factor in the behavior, this may be difficult to get across to your loved ones.
Also, consider registering their phone in the National Do Not Call Registry.
If a family member is a source of the problem, talk to them about the financials constraints your parents are facing, and ask them to find other resources.
You can also have your seniors removed from mailing lists. And you can request that your parent’s inbound and outbound calls be restricted to a pre-programmed contact list.
Finally, you may want to have your name on your parents’ checking account, to help keep an eye on what is being spent. At that point, it is wise for a responsible member of your family to be designated as having financial power of attorney.
At Bethesda, we know the challenges that come with aging. If your senior loved one needs extra assistance, we can help. Our Senior Support Solutions and Care Management programs can ensure that your senior loved one is aging in place safely. Contact us to learn more.