In the season of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, there’s more we should do than send a sentimental card or host a brunch. Adult children need to communicate with their parents about personal finances — without intruding on their privacy or demeaning their ability to continue their financial independence.
The operative question is: “What if…?”
Unless your family has been through an untimely death or the onset of dementia, you have no idea how much difference an ounce of prevention — and preparation — can make.
If you wait to plan for those twin traumas or aging, your heartache will more than double, as will the costs and time involved in dealing with money issues.
It’s for that reason I created my Personal Financial Inventory, which is available for free on my website, www.TerrySavage.com. You can either fill it out online and then print it out or print out as many blank copies as you need for all generations of your family to help them organize their financial information, ranging from credit cards and bank/brokerage accounts to healthcare powers and cemetery deeds.
Invite your parents to brunch and hand out the organizer. Believe me, it’s a real conversation starter. And it comes under the headline of “superstition” — as in “I’m superstitious and I believe that once you are organized you are no longer tempting fate!”
Don’t expect your parents to start filling in the blanks at the lunch table. Instead, use the occasion as the start of a project that could take weeks. Stress that you don’t need to see the actual “numbers” — just the names of brokers, bankers, attorneys and the location of important documents that might be needed in an emergency.
The gaps will become obvious: Is there no will? No healthcare power of attorney? Is there a forgotten life insurance policy? Is the ex-spouse still the beneficiary of that policy, or of an old IRA? Now is the time to figure it out.
And there’s one more worry for adult children of aging parents. It’s the increasing possibility that they will be scammed out of their money, their assets, their lifestyle.
It doesn’t just happen to lonely, isolated seniors, although they are frequently victimized. It happens in the nicest families. And, sadly, the financial elder abuse is often perpetrated by the victim’s own adult child.
A new book, “The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse” by attorney Michael Hackard, describes how this can happen under your eyes — and what you can do about it. It’s tough to confront a suspected abuser, especially if it’s a family member. But as Hackard explains, if you wait until the money is gone, it’s too late. You will be left picking up the financial pieces — and paying for your parent’s care in their final years. It’s a humiliating and debilitating experience for all concerned.
Far better to be on the alert, says Hacker, for warning signs of elder abuse. For example, it may seem easier to let a caregiver manage the daily expenses using a debit card to pay for groceries or refills of medicine. But access to a debit card can lead to withdrawals linked to other accounts. Often the caregiver accompanies the elderly person to a bank to make withdrawals.
It’s important to carefully monitor financial accounts. Also check your parents’ credit report; it will reveal new accounts opened in their name. A trusted family member should be physically present in the home on a regular basis, checking on family heirlooms and jewelry. And beware of “good causes” and charity scams syphoning money from a parent’s assets.
Sadly, you may find yourself “monitoring” your own relative who acts as a caregiver and can be tempted to get Mom to change her will, withdraw money from accounts or change power of attorney. Caring for an aging parent is a family task, and everyone should participate to avoid hard feelings and harder accusations. That’s The Savage Truth.