Dear Savvy Senior: What tips can you offer on helping an elderly parent with their finances? My 84-year-old father is having trouble keeping up with his bills and insurance, and I just found out that he’s been making contributions to a suspicious charity. — Reluctant Daughter
Dear Reluctant: Many adult children serve as financial helpers to their elderly or ill parents. They provide services like paying bills, handling deposits and investments, filing insurance claims, preparing taxes and more. Here are some tips and resources that can help you help your dad.
Start with a conversation
Taking on the task of helping an elderly parent with their finances can be a sensitive and difficult topic. The first step in helping your dad is to have a respectful talk with him expressing your concerns, as you stated in your question, and offering to help him with his financial chores. If you have siblings, it can be a good idea to get them involved, too. This can help you head off any possible hard feelings; plus, with others involved, your dad will know everyone is concerned.
If your dad is willing to let you help manage, monitor or take over his financial affairs, your first order of business is to get organized by making a list of his financial accounts and other important information. Your list should include his:
>> Contact list: Names and numbers of key contacts like insurance agents, financial adviser, tax preparer, family attorney, etc.
>> Monthly bills: Phone, cable, water and trash, gas, electric, credit card accounts, etc.
>> Financial accounts: Including bank accounts, brokerage and mutual fund accounts, safe-deposit boxes and any other financial assets he has. Also, get user names and passwords for financial accounts that are set up online.
>> Company benefits: Any retirement plans, pensions or health benefits from his current or former employer.
>> Insurance policies: Life, home, auto, long-term care, Medicare, etc.
>> Taxes: Copies of your dad’s income tax returns over the past few years.
Locate important documents
This is also the ideal time to find out whether your dad has the following essential legal documents: a will; an advance directive that includes a living will and health care proxy, which allows you or another family member or friend to make medical decisions on his behalf if he becomes incapacitated; and a durable power of attorney, which gives you or a designated person similar legal authority for financial decisions, if needed.
If he doesn’t have these important documents prepared, now is the time to do it. And if they are prepared, make sure they’re updated and that you know where they are.
Simplify financial tasks
The quickest way to help your dad simplify his monthly financial chores is to set up automatic payments for his utilities and other routine bills and arrange for direct deposit of his income sources.
If your dad has savings and investments scattered in many different accounts, you should consider consolidating them. You can also set up your dad’s bank system and investment accounts online so you can pay bills and monitor his accounts anytime.
Set up protections
To guard against scams and risky financial behaviors, consider getting your dad a True Link Visa prepaid card (TrueLinkFinancial.com/card). Designed for older adults with cognitive issues, this card would provide your dad access to his money but with restrictions that you set on how funds can be spent. Or check out EverSafe.com, a web-based service that will automatically monitor your dad’s accounts, track suspicious activity and alert you when a problem is detected.
If you need help or live far away, consider hiring a daily money manager (see AADMM.com) who can come in once or twice a month to pay bills, make deposits, decipher health insurance statements and balance his checkbook. Fees range between $60 and $150 per hour.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.