The rubber really hits the road when mom and dad get sick: how to obtain proper medical care? How to pay their bills? Who is going to take them to the doctor’s appointments? Who is going to ensure that their medicine is properly administered?
These questions generally turn even the most erstwhile loving family into a quagmire of emotional outbursts including arguments over control, love and responsibility.
In a great article, Carolyn Rosenblatt addresses these and other issues. Her website, AgingParents.com, provides wonderfully instructive lessons and solutions for families in crisis. Ms. Rosenblatt states: “We consult with all kinds of families about their aging loved ones. Believe me, we hear just about everything you can imagine. Family fights about aging loved ones are a common problem, with a parent’s diminished capacity to handle money being a frequent source of conflict. What can you do if you see a hassle brewing in your family? Can painful warfare be prevented?
The short answer is yes, sometimes being proactive and looking ahead can stop warfare before it starts. You can’t control an evil or unscrupulous sibling from ripping off Mom or Dad in every situation, but you can take preventive steps in many instances. Taking initiative early can lead to success.
Let’s look at a typical aging parent with substantial assets who has “memory loss”. The signs of memory loss that interferes with daily life are ominous and can be the first red flags warning you that dementia is developing. This is not always the case, as memory loss can be caused by other conditions, medication, strokes and such but it is often an early sign of brain disease that is going to worsen over time. When you see this common issue in your aging parent, it’s time to take stock.
Confusion goes with memory loss. Handling money becomes riskier and riskier for these elders. Here is the advice we offer to families who ask for it, worried that the parent is becoming less independent and more vulnerable because of forgetting things. Consider these five steps:
- Take stock of the legal documents your parents have in place. Have the will and/or trust been updated in the last few years? If not, now is the time, as your aging parent can lose the capacity to understand and therefore make necessary changes to the documents in the future.
- Ask whom your aging parent has appointed to take over if he or she becomes unable to manage finances later on. If that appointee is YOU, be sure you understand what you’d have to manage and where to find the documents and access for all accounts your loved ones have. This can be a huge responsibility.
- Be accountable and transparent in any and all financial dealings you have with your aging parent’s money. Never mix their funds with yours in the same account. Keep excellent, current and clear records of every dollar they spend or that you spend in caring for them.
- If you are in charge of the finances at any point, share the information voluntarily with all siblings or other heirs who will be affected by what you do. Potential or known heirs to your aging parents’ estate will have a right to see what has happened with expenditures. Store the information where the others will be able to access it. Secrecy can raise suspicions and create conflict down the road.
- Call family meetings to update any sibling or other involved about your aging parents’ financial status, need for care, costs of care, and management decisions the decision-maker takes on. If you are not that person, ask the one who is to be transparent and accountable. Get competent legal advice early if you suspect any improper use of your aging parents’ money.
We would be glad if anyone took these steps and headed off even one of the many, tragically destructive family fights we see and sometimes mediate. Relationships go on after the parents are no longer with us. Think ahead and be responsible. It can save you unnecessary distress and heartbreak. No one says this is easy but the effort and time to keep aging parents’ finances clean
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