3/25/2013 8:15 PM ET|
Mom, money and Alzheimer's
How one woman took over her mother's finances after she was diagnosed with the disease.
When I started noticing signs that my mom's memory was fading, I was too afraid to tell her that I thought she might have dementia or Alzheimer's disease. So I called her primary-care physician and asked him to suggest during her next appointment that it would be a good idea for her to see a specialist to check for memory loss.
She took his advice, though the first neurologist she saw said that her test results came back relatively normal. Thankfully, one of her friends stepped in and took her to another doctor, who did diagnose her with Alzheimer's disease.
The diagnosis affirmed what I already knew -- that my mom's ability to handle financial tasks (as well as daily activities, such as cooking, bathing and dressing) would erode, possibly very quickly. As such, I told myself that I couldn't be afraid to step in and start helping her manage her finances. Here's how I did it:
I got power of attorney. After my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I knew I had to act quickly to get power of attorney to handle financial transactions for her. Without it, I wouldn't be able to access her accounts, sign checks for her or manage her money when she was no longer able to do so. And I couldn't wait until she didn't have the mental capacity to handle financial transactions before I secured this document. For a power of attorney to be valid, the person has to be competent when he or she signs it. Otherwise, you'll have to go to court, and a judge will have to deem your parent incompetent.
I used the diagnosis to start a conversation with my mom about the disease and how it meant her memory and ability to do things would only get worse. I told her that I wanted to be able to help her. To do so, I said we needed to meet with an attorney to draft all the necessary legal documents. She agreed.
My mom granted what's called a durable power of attorney to both my sister and me. It took effect immediately, and it will stay in effect even if she's declared incompetent. Another option is a so-called springing power of attorney, which will not take effect until your parent is deemed incompetent by a doctor. We opted against a springing POA because we were concerned that a doctor might be hesitant to sign anything that could lead to a legal dispute.
Once I had this document, I started contacting financial institutions at which my mom had accounts. Proof of power of attorney varied from institution to institution. Some simply took my word for it; others, such as her credit card company, wanted me to send the original document, but I insisted that I could send only a copy because my mother's attorney had instructed me never to send the original (which could be misused if it fell into the wrong hands). We went together to her bank, which required that she sign documents giving me power of attorney for her account there.
I started monitoring her accounts. My mother isn't tech savvy -- she doesn't even own a computer. And that worked to my advantage. I was able to set up online access to her accounts to monitor them, using passwords of my choosing. I wanted to take her checkbook away because she had been giving freely to almost every charitable organization that sent her a donation request. To do this, I suggested setting up automatic bill payments so that she wouldn't need paper checks, but she balked. Instead, I went through her mail every time I visited to weed out solicitations from organizations to which she had no ties. I wasn't able to take away her checkbook until two years after her diagnosis, when I moved her into my home.
I took away all but one of her credit cards. Experts I spoke with said that it was OK to be sneaky at times when dealing with people with Alzheimer's in order to protect them financially. That could mean going through a purse, finding a checkbook and copying down an account number so that you can monitor the account, or surreptitiously looking through files to get a better picture of a parent's finances. In my case, I pulled all but one of the credit cards out of my mom's wallet when she wasn't looking. For someone who could easily leave her purse behind without noticing, it was too much of a risk for her to carry all those cards.
Luckily, my mom didn't have a debit card. She simply used checks to get cash from her account. I left her with one credit card to pay for things when she didn't have cash on hand. This card was issued by her bank, and because I had set up online access to her bank accounts, I was able to monitor her use of it.
Once my mother moved in with me, it was much easier to take over her finances entirely. Even before that point, though, I was incredibly lucky because my mother was willing to let me help her. The few times she resisted my efforts, I simply backed off and tried again later or used a different approach. I've also been grateful that my sister and I have never had any arguments over how to manage my mom's money.
It's not always this easy for children to help parents with financial tasks, though. Some parents don't want to be told what to do by their kids; others are suspicious of their kids' motives. If you're in this situation, see "Managing your parents' money" for tips on how to start a conversation with your parents and how to step in without sacrificing their dignity.
You also can reach out to a third party, such as your parents' doctor, attorney or accountant, to suggest that your parents let you lend a hand. They might be more receptive if the advice comes from a professional they trust. Or you can hire a geriatric care manager, who can facilitate communication between you and your parents. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers' member directory can help you find care managers in your area. They charge $100 an hour, on average.
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The reason the interests of a lot of elderly folk w/decline or dementia are ill-served is because if you try to intervene, you're immediately accused of greed, esp. if you're the adult child, most esp. if you're an only child. I've been down this road, both as a participant and as an observer. Disheartening though it may be, we often "know" but can't scientifically "prove," that an elderly loved one can't handle his/her finances anymore. So what do the holier-than-thou critics suggest? If you leave the afflicted elder to live independently and manage his/her own life, then you can get nailed by social services or possible the law for elder neglect/abuse if the elder is found naked in the street or lighting fires to dollar bills or endangering his/her own life. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Just because you're managing your loved one's money doesn't mean you're abusing it. Is it really better to let the poor elder control and misuse his/her money or preserve it so that the elder can have the money to pay for good care? The idea is to intervene so that the "patient's" money will be there for patient care, not for indulgence by the "greedy" child. Taking care of an elderly, out-of-it parent acting against his or her best interests is one of the hardest things you can do. You're worried about their ability to pay for the very expensive care that's going to be needed down the road, if it's not already needed. You're not thinking about how you're going to spend the money on yourself. You just hope you don't collapse under the stress and then can't care for the parent at all. Those who haven't had the experience of caring for a parent on the downslope shouldn't open their mouths.
It is never easy to keep that delicate balance between helping an elderly relative and letting them keep their independence. My wife and I had this issue with her Grandmother. Grandma was in her 90's and still living alone. Once a week my wife would take her shopping and would help her pay her bills. Grandma always wanted to pay her bills in person, she did not trust the mail. Was grandma's apartment perfectly clean and tidy? No, but it was not unsafe to live and eat. Then comes my wife's sister and to listen to her, we were allowing grandma to live in filth. She demanded grandma get a cleaning service. This hurt grandma very much.
Upon grandma's death her doctor praised my wife and I for allowing her to keep her independence.
I found it interesting in this story that the first doctor said her mom was ok. She went and found a 2nd doctor who told her what she wanted to hear. Funny she did not get a 3rd opinion.
It is sad so many elders are so suspicious of the children they themselves raised.
This is a really good article.
Good pointers...I'm going to bookmark it.
Also, elders tend not to eat really well, and, I wonder if, left to be chronic, this leads to earlier dementia and great devastation with Alzheimer's? Must research....
Anyway, that is where I started. Telling my father (for whom I shall be responsible probably sooner rather than later) to mind his diet. I've been impressed with the improvment.
I Knew better and I need to control her money are red flags. Parents DO NOT owe their children an inheritance - they should spend it on their own dreams. Collage - ok - but in a trust that cannot be used but for education. As long as mom is competent, SHE should make her decisions. If she wants to cruise the world and is competent - Why not?
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Shame. Don't get the dx ya want, and keep going and get it. I wonder how they test it now to 100% confirm that it is actually Alzhemers, since when I took the class in college (yeah, there was a credited class titled "Alzheimers"), they can only tell at autopsy. My fear is that there are people out there that just want mom's money and to control (not saying tat this is the case here), but then again it could be. I really think that like foster parents, there should be an advocate of the court that does. No person should lose control of their money until they are completely gone.
I would rather be left to fend for myself than to allow someone to manage me. Mother should have made a living will. There are many reasons for dimentia and giving a dx wrongly can be tantamount to a death sentence becuase of decline that is untreated. If someone gets confused, an entire battery of tests need to be done, not just neurological or psychological, but ruling out other diseases that can cause dimentia.
This article seemed more about getting hands on finances. Her attorney seemed to advocate against the client. Rather than get her credit cards, the accounts should have just been closed so that the daughter couldn't get her hands on them either. Ya know?. The point is, if mother wants to spend every single penny of her money, then so be it. It is her money-not child's to spend it all. When it is gone, it's gone.
A person can do their own way of tracking sans computer. They are not vital at all. In fact, mom probably was less prone to identity theft prior to putting her stuff online. This individual does not appear to be parent-proactive at all. As someone older, to me it appears that she got the dx wanted to get financial control as motive. People can appear to be senile, agitated, forgetful, whatever-when interrupted by meddling people who make them nervous and yet, not be when left alone to their own divices.
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