This is a talk you'll want to have sooner rather than later.
It’s Older Americans Month, and you know what that means: more articles about elder finance management. Today’s article is about how you know when it’s time to step in and help an elderly relative who can’t manage their finances on their own anymore.
It’s not a particularly fun topic, because no one wants to think about a parent, aunt, or even themselves growing older and losing their capabilities. It can also be a very uncomfortable conversation to have with a relative because no one wants to believe that they could be losing their faculties.
How do you know if it’s time to have “the finance talk” with an elderly relative and how can you have that talk in a sensitive way? We spoke to the experts to find out.
Noticing the signs.
You don’t want to imagine that your elderly friend, relative, or parent could start fading away mentally. Finances are such a personal, private thing, so it feels uncomfortable encroaching upon it. Your parents probably kept their finances under wraps to some degree while you were growing up because they were the adults and therefore knew better. That could have lead to you viewing them as more qualified to handle finances than you are. But at some point, it may be time to stop assuming they know better when they make financial choices that seem odd to you.
“One major warning sign that your family member may need assistance with finances is when they begin making irrational financial decisions,” explained Matt Schmidt, CEO of Burial Insurance Pro. “Some examples are canceling life insurance policies out of the blue, sending large sums of money to a distant relative, or maybe donating money to ‘random’ charities or causes. When a person begins making financial transactions that are out of the norm, it is probably a good idea to approach them, and begin having a discussion.”
Watch out for memory loss.
Sahara Powell is a PR assistant for Bratton Law Group, a law firm specializing in elder care and estate planning, and she offered some additional signs to look out for:
“Memory loss is a natural part of aging, however, when the loss of memories becomes more frequent and leads to neglected responsibilities, it should not be ignored. If you notice your elder forgetting appointments, birthdays, important events, and other distinct memories, you may need to discuss with them the possibility of taking over their finances.
“Everyone loves to treat themselves from time to time, but when you begin to notice your elder has been making more expensive purchases, or even multiple purchases of the same product, it could be a sign that they need help with their finances.
“Make note of any changes in spending patterns of your elders. For instance, if they typically shop once a month, but more recently you notice they’ve been splurging and shopping multiple times a week or have called in to order more than the normal amount of QVC products.
“One of the clearer signs your elder may not be well enough to be financially responsible anyone is if they have many bills that are unpaid and past due. It may be difficult to discover this information, but keep your eye out for eviction notices, or envelopes that have ‘PAST DUE’ plastered on top.
“It may also be a good thing to check in with your elder from time to time and offer your assistance in helping them with their bills. This will ensure bills are paid on time and allow you to keep an eye on when it may be time for you to take over the finances of your elder in full force.”
Don’t wait to have the talk.
You should even consider starting The Conversation before the signs become apparent. Unfortunately, aging can happen faster than you think, as one author we spoke to made clear when she shared her story with us.
“My story is extraordinary in that my father was military intelligence, so when dementia began to come in, he became paranoid to a new height,” recounted Alexandra Allred, athlete, activist, and author of Operation Caregivers: #LifewithDementia. “In fact, our situation is so extreme that I was contracted to write a book about it because I lived the story of what happens when there was NO conversation about finances.
“When my father fell, hit his head and was rendered 100 percent incapacitated, it was a nightmare. He had been taking care of my mom, who had Alzheimer’s. I did not have passwords, medical or financial info, no legal standing that I knew off. We lost over $30,000 of his savings in under 10 months and I couldn’t stop anything.”
Hopefully, you now understand why the conversation has to happen, even if it might be uncomfortable. So how does that conversation happen?
How that conversation should happen.
We know speaking to an elderly relative about finance can be an awkward and uncomfortable conversation. We’ve spent multiple paragraphs acknowledging that fact. You probably thought it was uncomfortable even before we spent all of these words explaining how uncomfortable it can be. But it’s a conversation you’ll need to have, and there are steps you can take to try to make it a little less rough.
“Every eldercare conversation is subject to a communication breakdown,” warned Joy Loverde, author of The Complete Eldercare Planner. “Conversations can come to a screeching halt at any time and when you least expect it. Every conversation is tainted with the underlying theme of our elders’ need for independence; keeping the trust factor high requires us to assure them time after time that our motive is not to ‘take away’ what is rightfully theirs.
“To better accomplish this goal, listen more than you speak, and ask more questions. You can be a better communicator when you resist the temptation to offer unsolicited advice. When circumstances dictate that the caregiving situation requires a more aggressive communication approach, you will likely know when the timing is right to do so.”
You can also consider starting the conversation in a more roundabout way.
“If the opportunity to start an eldercare conversation doesn’t present itself, and you want to get things started, create your own,” suggested Loverde. “Clip a current newspaper article that reports a growing eldercare issue, like long-term care. Read the article and highlight important sentences. Mail the article with a personal note, or next time you visit your elder hand him or her the article and say, ‘I didn’t realize that in-home services are not covered by Medicare. Did you? What are your thoughts on this?’
“Clipping articles works especially well if the person you want to talk to is your parent. Remember, in your parents’ eyes, you’re still ‘their child’ and news articles can well serve as an authority figure when you, yourself, are not considered as such.”
Figure out what level of assistance is necessary.
There’s a large range of assistance you can offer an elderly relative, from taking over their finances entirely to just giving some advice every now and then. It’s important not to be condescending, especially if they’re still capable enough such that you could be a partner rather than some sort of “reverse parent.”
“Keep your elders in the driver’s seat as much and as long as possible, and encourage them to make decisions and solve their own problems along the way,” advised Loverde. “Here are some sample questions that can prompt capable elders to take more responsibility for their own well being: What do you plan to do to solve this problem? Given what you know now, what do you think is your next step? Do you have someone to talk to about this?
“It doesn’t matter if what you have to say is ‘truth.’ It doesn’t matter if you are ‘right.’ It doesn’t matter that you are the voice of reason if they would only listen to you. Imposing your will, offering unsolicited advice, doing too much, forcing your values, and coming across as experts on their lives will only result in your being perceived as manipulative and overbearing, rather than loving and caring.”
Alexandra Allred (@AlexandraAllred) is the daughter of a (retired) US Diplomat and had the unusual upbringing of the world being her playground, including making the first ever US women’s bobsled team. Allred teaches human function and design of special population classes for Tarleton State University and Navarro College but her greatest challenge came when forced to tackle long-term care for her parents. www.13Able.com.
The experienced attorneys and care coordinators at Bratton Law Estate & Elder Care focus exclusively in specialized practice areas—elder law, life care planning, estate planning, asset protection, and tax. By concentrating our knowledge and expertise in these niche areas, we are able to make and maintain important personal and professional connections necessary to advise our clients.
Matt Schmidt is a burial insurance advisor, who helps families across the country obtain affordable burial insurance policies. These specific end-of-life policies help families cover funeral costs, and other final expenses.
Andrew Tavin is a writer, comedian, and a full-time content manager for OppLoans. He graduated with a BFA in TV Writing from Tisch School of the Arts in New York City, worked as a writer for BrainPOP, and created a branded comedy video series for the National Retail Federation called “Interview Day.” He performs around the country and his writing has also appeared on Collegehumor, Funny or Die, and Sparklife.
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