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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Help Your Aging Relatives With Their Finances

Keeping an eyes on your elderly relatives may provide signs that they could use your help with handling their finances. Don't wait to get involved!

Eileen AJ Connelly of the AP writes:
[a]t first, you might notice a pile of unopened mail. Your normally fastidious mother might be getting sloppy with her checkbook. Your elderly uncle might be behind on his electricity bill. The signs are often subtle, but they might indicate that aging relatives are no longer able to handle their finances.
Once you have noticed a possible problem, now is the time to have a conversation where you offer help. Don't wait, as that will risk compounding any problems that already exist. The longer the topic goes unspoken, the greater the chance that once the problem is critical, that your offer of assistance will be met with resistance or denial. However, don't avoid the topic because you think there will be trouble...sometimes the elder may simply assume you're too busy and they don't want to bother you with their troubles.

Sometimes is is easier to enlist the assistance of one of the elder's professional resources: their lawyer, CPA, financial advisor, or doctor. Connelly writes:
Once the conversation is started, be sure to discuss a budget, income, assets and insurance policies. It also can be a good time to make sure that a will is in place, and discuss whether a health-care power of attorney is appropriate.

While I agree that this is an excellent time to discuss whether your parents have an appropriate estate plan in place (at a minimum: Will, General Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will, Organ Donor Registration, HIPAA Release), I strongly disagree that this is the time to "discuss whether a health-care power of attorney is appropriate".

A health care power of attorney is always appropriate from the moment one turns 18 years old. There is no reason to wait and risk having the court be involved in order to appoint the one in charge of making medical decisions on your behalf should you be incapacitated. All adults should have a health care power of attorney!

Should the financial problems be a result of limited, fixed income, investigate state or federal programs that might help with some of the monthly bills. Your local Area on Aging is a good place to start.

Warning Signals:

Signs to watch for if you suspect an elderly relative might be having trouble handling finances:

  • Unopened mail
  • Late or unpaid bills; collections actions
  • Confusion or lack of interest about what bills have been paid
  • Bounced checks
  • Disorganized personal paperwork
  • Uncashed checks or unclaimed property reverting to the state
  • A large number of magazine subscriptions
  • Unusual or increasing direct mail or shopping-channel purchases

Read the entire article, Aging Relatives May Need Help With Finances.

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