Helping an elderly parent stay on top of their financial accounts

PaunchyPirate

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My mother is 85. She is in good health and of sound mind. No signs of dementia or anything like that. However, she over the last year or two she has grown to be more easily confused about situations that arise with her financial accounts. Mostly related to online access, email and phone message notifications, etc.

Mom has in iPhone and a Windows computer. She is quite good at using both for her needs. But she also tends to click on things she shouldn't, open emails she shouldn't, etc. When she has to contact customer service for anything, the combination of her poor hearing (even with her hearing aids) and her age often lead her to confusion about what the agent says or asks her to do. Then when she discusses these things with me, she often can't recall the specific details of what happened to help me help her figure out what needs to be done. I live 5 miles away from her, so I can rush over to her apartment as needed to help her deal with things, but that is getting old.

For example, she just received an email that supposedly came from her local bank. It indicated that someone tried to add (or did add) a payee to her bank account's bill pay capabilities. The email had a phone number to call, so she called it. But she could not get thru the phone systems automated menus to accomplish anything. She says she gave the system her phone number and her PIN number, but they said that info didn't match their system. So she hung up. She called me asking what to do. I told her she should never call a number in an email message like that. So I looked up the customer service number from the banks website and gave that to her to call. She thinks it's the same number as was in the email, but she wasn't at her computer to verify that while I was talking to her. Anyway... I found that he bank branch is open for another hour, so she is going to drive to the bank and see someone in person about this.

Anyway, that's just one of many such situations that have started to arise with more frequency.

I'm starting to feel that perhaps it is time for me to step up my involvement in her accounts in some way. She is not concerned about me in any way. I have her username and password for several financial accounts already. But because she is horrible with password management, she has changed passwords now and then on things so I can no longer get into the accounts without going to her house. Or the access requires a code sent via text message to her phone number, which is a phone I don't have in front of me at my home.

I'm curious how others have helped their aging parents deal with this sort of increasing level of confusion and risk. She's been pretty good about dealing with her aging and how it affects her. So I think she will be open minded if I propose some changes to her. But I'm not sure how it would work logistically to "take over her finances", for example.

Will some of you share your experiences with this type of thing, please. Thanks.
 
My experience with my mother goes back 25 years so there have been a few minor changes since then. What I did was have her put me on the account with her, and then I had online access (a "new thing" back then) so I could virtually look over her shoulder. Another thing I did was take all her investment/savings account information home with me (she was fine with this) and so the only money she had routine access to was her normal $500 or so in the checking account for groceries, birthday presents for grand kids and the like. So if someone stole that it would be an irritant for sure, but not a financial catastrophe.

Perhaps something along those lines would work for you and your mom. Best of luck to you on it.
 
We had to step up for her parents. We kept track of everything and organized their accounts. We eventually gained control over everything, except the will.
 
Sounds familiar. When my mom got into her 80s she was still sharp mentally but already recognized that dealing with finances was more work than she wanted to do. So she asked me to take over.

We got all her accounts changed to JTWROS ownership so I could easily handle everything. She just relaxed about it and we set it up so that she had just one credit card to use when necessary, with a small limit on it. Whenever she wanted cash to spend locally, she asked me for it, because that was easier than going to an ATM to get some. She was of the generation that preferred to use cash anyway, and that eliminated even more of the possibility of credit scams.

Since I was visiting her at least weekly anyway, this was easy. A few times a year I would show her a summary of everything just to keep her mind easy.

This plan worked until the end, and we were both glad we did it.
 
DMIL is 92. No cell phone, no computer (she does not want them). Still mostly on the ball. While this can be a pain in helping her, it also means it is very difficult for someone to scam her out of big bucks.

DW's sister lives with her (a LONG story), but that also helps, though neither one has a good handle on investments. That's OK, they just sit there gaining value.

We check on the finances once in a while, and all looks good.

For the record, she has way more than she will ever spend, unless LTC is needed. Fortunately, she can cover what ever would be needed.
 
My dad just turned 93 last month. While he is still on the ball, my brother and I (mainly me, because I live 20 miles from him, while he lives 200 miles away) help him out with stuff. He doesn't have a PC but has a small tablet he uses to send a few emails and look stuff up on line once in a while. He has a healthy sense of skepticism, and I remind him from time to time about the many scams that are out there.

Back in 2017, when he suffered an unexpected injury and was in the hospital and rehab for nearly a month, I had to make sure all his bills got paid. I set up autopay on several bills such as phone/internet, electric, and gas. I also showed him how to pay his credit card over the phone (his checking account and credit card are held by the same bank). This was useful because his checks got lost in the mail a few times (or he forgot to mail it).

One thing my brother and I did for him the last few years was to set us up as authorized users for some of his accounts. For his banking, it was a minor ordeal but we got it done. This means either of us can speak for him without having to get him on the phone to give his assent first. For me, it means driving to his house. For his internet/phone company, it was much easier. Becoming an authorized user allowed me to bargain with them to get his monthly bill reduced by $100 a month last year, while not having to leave my apartment or get him on the phone.

I have had mixed results trying to gain and maintain authorized user status with his IRA administrator. His financial advisor left her company last year and went to another one (and he moved most of his money there a few months later), so all the paperwork my brother, my dad, and I did in 2021 to establish this feature disappeared (mostly; he still has one account with the old company). Furthermore, his advisor's new company lacked the forms to establish authorized user status and did not accept the POA document we put together with his will 15 years ago because it required both my brother's and my okay, not an either/or. So, all we have is a more unofficial AU status (don't ask).

I began doing my dad's income tax forms back in 2020 which is useful because I oversee his portfolio so I can make sure proper income taxes are withheld, if any. I act as a go-between with his FA and can access another account not with his FA if he needs money more quickly and efficiently.

So I have done a bunch of things to better oversee his finances and day-to-day bills.
 
Based on my experience with parents.

Get durable power of attorney documents while you still can and sign more than one original copy so you won't be worrying about losing the one copy.

Get set up to access all accounts either by joint or POA or just login info.

Start managing it for them an give a credit card and cash allowance. Take over bill paying. Set up auto pay and have logins to accounts being paid.

Get set up with social security as a caretaker. I forget the exact term but this cannot be done after they go senile and POA does not count.

Getting it all set up early will save massive headaches. Things go sideways fast.
 
Dad took care of the finances and Mom the house and was not particularly interested in the family finances, so when Dad died I took over managing her commercial rental, paying the bills and investments.

Since everything was in a trust and I was a co-trustee it made it easy.
 
Over time, my Dad signed two general durable POAs, registered me as his full agent with Vanguard, and let me get set up as his SS representative payee (the term @joesxm3 was looking for). As his abilities have declined, I have gradually gone from being aware, to monitoring, to helping out a bit, to helping out more. I am now doing or coordinating pretty much everything (financial and medical) for about a year since his dementia diagnosis.

My suggestions:

1. Get the POA ASAP while your parent is still competent. Make sure it's durable, general, and complies with your state's laws. Waiting can be problematic. JTWORS, joint accounts, sharing usernames and passwords, and authorized user status are all workarounds or kludges and all have bigger problems or drawbacks IMHO.

2. Once you have the POA, get set up with all of his financial institutions. Now that I'm responsible for everything, I've changed the mailing address, contact phone number, contact email, etc. to be mine or "Dad c/o secondcor521 POA". This helps with things like 2FA and reduces scam risk probably.

3. Simplify if you can. Reduce the number of accounts and institutions to the minimum. My Dad now has only five accounts at three institutions: IRA, Roth IRA, taxable, checking, and one CC.

4. Automate everything. My Dad has his RMD, pension, SS, rent, credit card bill, and some medical bills automated. I still track it all, but it's less work than writing checks or whatever.

5. Get online access as much as possible. Pretty much all transactions I do for my Dad can be done online, where I don't even have to deal with explaining I have a POA. (But when I do call or go somewhere in person, having the POA on file makes it a breeze. Once they verify my identity and the POA, they let me do pretty much anything.)

6. Don't forget health stuff. I had to register the POA with my Dad's health insurance company. I'm also his health agent with the local hospital and his doctors. And I also have copies of his living will, health care POA, POST, etc. and know what his wishes are regarding these things.

7. Communicate. If you have other interested parties - I have two great siblings who live out of state - I think it's really important to be open and transparent about both money and health items, especially if there is any judgement call to be made. I take care of all of the obvious stuff, like making sure his rent and credit card are paid, and that his SS is deposited, and I adjust his tax withholding. But anything big or potentially debatable I send an email to both of my sisters explaining the background, the options, the timeline, etc. and get their input.

8. Be prepared that it'll probably get more/worse over time. My Dad was like your parent four years ago. His dementia has progressed to where it's now a part time job even though he's in a AL place that takes care of a lot of stuff for him. You'll also have to make tougher decisions later about how to balance giving them autonomy and respect and agency while protecting them from, in some cases, themselves and their diminished capacity.

9. I agree with @joesxm3's comment about get ready now. My Dad signed his first POA in 2017 shortly after my Mom died. Having it in place made the gradual transition that came a few years later easy for everyone: there was no rush, no stress, and no question about it's validity.
 
Good summary SecondCor. I am copying that down, not for my dealing with my parents - for the kids dealing with me. :)
 
A move that makes sense, is to add your name to the core checking account. We could visit the ATM and get cash for father-in-law, clear up errors, and so on.

Having the ability to pay bills is essential.

Then it became easier to log in, download checking transactions, and make sure we moved excess cash to HYSA or money market with higher interest.
 
Thank you everyone for the input. It is helpful. I'm going to start approaching the subject with her on some of these.

Her bills are already almost all on autopay.
I am already a joint owner of her checking account.
I already am an authorized user on one of her credit cards so I can make purchases for her.
I am already listed as a POA on her Ameriprise IRA and small Taxable account and I have been attending her regular meetings with her financial advisor for a few years now.
She doesn't have much more that I need to deal with for financial accounts.
So I have a lot of visibility. But I don't have a lot of control, for lack of a better word.

She is very active. She still drives locally. She is out to lunch or breakfast with her friends at least 3-4 times a week. But I'm seeing things change more rapidly than in the past, for sure.

I'll start working with her on that. Thanks again.
 
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My mom is also 85 and I handle everything. She is OK mentally, but like 10 years ago I convinced her to consolidate her accounts and provide guidance. I'm POA as well as Health care proxy and she also moved into an apartment in our building so I'm an elevator ride away and can help with computer, TV, printer issues which almost occur daily :LOL:
 
My Dad is 91, and my mom is 84. Dad is starting to lose it, so my Mom handles the finances. Mom recognized that she is not internet savvy and was paranoid about getting hacked, so she took everything off line. They live on less than the pensions and social security, and have all of their savings in local banks and credit unions. Mom is still more than sharp enough to pay the bills, manage cash, and keep track of their physical accounts. I mention that I'm there to help, if she needs it. She keeps telling me that she doesn't need it, and she'll let me know if she does. I don't bring it up much anymore. Her Dad lived to be over 100 and was independent to 95, so it may not be for awhile.
 
My Dad is 91, and my mom is 84. Dad is starting to lose it, so my Mom handles the finances. Mom recognized that she is not internet savvy and was paranoid about getting hacked, so she took everything off line. They live on less than the pensions and social security, and have all of their savings in local banks and credit unions. Mom is still more than sharp enough to pay the bills, manage cash, and keep track of their physical accounts. I mention that I'm there to help, if she needs it. She keeps telling me that she doesn't need it, and she'll let me know if she does. I don't bring it up much anymore. Her Dad lived to be over 100 and was independent to 95, so it may not be for awhile.

My experience has been that banks take advantage of old folks, by auto-renewing CD's into incredibly low interest rate paying CD's.
Along with 0% checking accounts and 0.10% interest savings accounts..

I'd take a look and see if this is happening as it amounts to a lot of missed/lost money over the years..

Worse, is the local trusted bank had no problem having their "investment specialist" , sign up an 85 yr old for a 10 year annuity !!!
 
My experience has been that banks take advantage of old folks, by auto-renewing CD's into incredibly low interest rate paying CD's.
Along with 0% checking accounts and 0.10% interest savings accounts..

I'd take a look and see if this is happening as it amounts to a lot of missed/lost money over the years..

Worse, is the local trusted bank had no problem having their "investment specialist" , sign up an 85 yr old for a 10 year annuity !!!


I agree in general, but I know she keeps close track of that and isn't afraid to move her money around town to take advantage of the best rates. They are extremely risk averse and frugal, staying away from the stock market, real estate and insurance products for the last fifty years. When my dad passes, we will probably have a more in-depth conversation about whether she would like me to take a more active role. For now, managing what's become a fairly sizeable amount is a source of pride for her.
 
I alluded to some drawbacks of non-POA solutions to these scenarios and wanted to mention them explicitly for people's consideration. The following is my general understanding:

Joint accounts, including JTWROS, means the money is also yours. This means it is subject to any liability you might have - if you don't pay your credit card bill, your creditor can go after your parent's checking account or CD. It also means that after the parent passes, the money becomes yours; if the will specifies or the parent intended equal division among siblings, for example, that wouldn't happen. You could gift their portions to them but you wouldn't have to and it would be subject to gift tax rules (probably not a problem in most cases, but it could be). Finally, for things like brokerage accounts, JTWROS or similar could reduce the step up in basis in some states, which would mean losing out on a nice tax benefit.

Authorized users on credit cards are able to make charges. However, they are not able to change the main user's address, phone number, credit limit, email contact, or add or remove other authorized users.

Acting as the person (either on the phone or online) risks losing protections against account theft because the institution's policy probably disclaims liability if the owner shares their login credentials with anyone. If siblings or other beneficiaries know about this, they could have concerns (founded or not) of additional untoward activity.

For 99% of the stuff I do with my Dad, I use the POA. There are very limited cases where I have to make exceptions. But when I do, I (a) attempt to limit them to the bare minimum by considering alternative ways of accomplishing the task, (b) consider the risks and downsides above, and (c) keep records and share (sometimes over-share) with my siblings contemporaneously so they're well aware of what's happening and why and have opportunity for input.
 
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Good summary SecondCor. I am copying that down, not for my dealing with my parents - for the kids dealing with me. :)

Thanks from me, too! I'm "only" 71 but I remember when Dad fell for a "grandparent scam" when he was in his early 80s and wired $7,000 to someone who purported to be my niece calling from jail. He never saw it again, of course. When Dad died a few year after Mom he left an estate of over $1 million so it wasn't a big dent but it was a huge warning sign of what can happen, even to an intelligent man who had an Engineering degree, was comfortable with technology, and had been investing since I was a teenager.

I've just got DS, whom I trust, and already have a POA, but need to have the talk with him again. I'd rather he have the uncomfortable conversation about having joint access, getting alerts, etc. prematurely than have some criminal steal a dime of his inheritance.
 
I've done a number of things to be more involved and have more oversight of my 93-year-old mother's finances while still leaving her a good deal of independence on a day to day basis.


I now balance her checkbook monthly as she was having more difficulty doing so. That gives me a good opportunity to double check everything, see what came in and what went out, and identify any potential issues.


I've put several of her regular monthly bills on autopay after she missed a couple of payments when she wasn't feeling well. She still gets the paper bills so she can review those but she doesn't need to worry about writing and mailing the checks on time (she doesn't do online banking).


I completely took over a good chunk of her investments a few years ago. She still has money with a firm that I wish she didn't, but I manage the rest with better returns and lower expenses.


Kind of finance-adjacent, I now have a key to her mailbox and at least a couple of times a week, I pick up her mail. That gives me the opportunity to throw out all of the fund raising solicitations that come in before she has a chance to see them. I wish I could get her mail daily to get rid of all of them but at least I've reduced the flow somewhat.


I've made sure I'm an authorized person on all of her accounts so that if the need arises, I can call and they will talk to me. Of course, I also have the sign in info for all of her financial accounts online.
 
Thanks from me, too! I'm "only" 71 but I remember when Dad fell for a "grandparent scam" when he was in his early 80s and wired $7,000 to someone who purported to be my niece calling from jail. He never saw it again, of course. When Dad died a few year after Mom he left an estate of over $1 million so it wasn't a big dent but it was a huge warning sign of what can happen, even to an intelligent man who had an Engineering degree, was comfortable with technology, and had been investing since I was a teenager.

This is sort of what I alluded to earlier. There comes a time when you have to take more control than you might want to in order to protect them from scammers or in some cases from themselves. It's a fine line to walk sometimes, and it can move over time and even on a daily basis.

A silver lining to my Dad's loss of computer ability is that he probably can't get scammed that way any more. He got bit a few times by a "you have a virus on your PC and we can fix it for $299" scam, and he also had a bunch of antivirus subscriptions that he was paying for and auto-renewing that were never actually installed on his computer. The antivirus folks make it rather hard to cancel sometimes.
 
Agree, agree, agree.

First thing my brother and I did was become joint holders of 90 year old father's accounts. It made things so easy when he died in terms of paying his bills, etc.

Luckily, my wife and I had the means to self-fund his LTC and caregiver(s). We paid out of our accounts stipulating to my brother and his wife we would repay ourselves after he died and the estate was settled. They were OK with this and my father went through the final years seeing his bank account balances remain stable and growing, even though his care expenses were slowly depleting his savings. He was very comforted seeing his bank statements towards the end, even when his mind was not 100% there.

Agree, agree, agree.

Get as much setup as possible as soon as possible.


Based on my experience with parents.

Get durable power of attorney documents while you still can and sign more than one original copy so you won't be worrying about losing the one copy.

Get set up to access all accounts either by joint or POA or just login info.

Start managing it for them an give a credit card and cash allowance. Take over bill paying. Set up auto pay and have logins to accounts being paid.

Get set up with social security as a caretaker. I forget the exact term but this cannot be done after they go senile and POA does not count.

Getting it all set up early will save massive headaches. Things go sideways fast.
 
I took over DF‘s accounts when he turned 86. I was already on his checking account and POA, authorized on his brokerage. This was when he moved to assisted living and I automated as much as possible and did things online. He had been doing everything by checks and mail and probably a good thing he wasn’t online for billing or financial accounts to be pestered by confusing spam/fishing emails.

Also made sure beneficiaries were up to date, will, health directive, etc.
 
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He had been doing everything by checks and mail and probably a good thing he wasn’t online to be pestered by confusing spam/fishing emails.

Although my mom gets a lot of enjoyment from being online, we often wish she wasn’t. As much as we try, we can’t get her to understand or recognize the difference between an advertisement and legitimate content. To be fair, they make it incredibly difficult to tell them apart.
 
Although my mom gets a lot of enjoyment from being online, we often wish she wasn’t. As much as we try, we can’t get her to understand or recognize the difference between an advertisement and legitimate content. To be fair, they make it incredibly difficult to tell them apart.
I wasn’t specific enough - DF was online for reading news from an handful of favorite sites and emails, FaceTime and Amazon. He just didn’t do financial stuff online nor had any online accounts apart from Amazon, which I was very glad about.
 
I’m now handling all of Mom's finances. Took that responsibility on a couple of years ago.

Her accountant was less than useful so I fired him. She now is a client of my tax accountant. That makes it easier for me. I also worked with Mom to change the address of all her accounts to my home.
 
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