DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: Can you offer any tips on helping an elderly parent with their finances? My dad always handled the money when he was alive, but since he passed away last year Mom has struggled to keep up. — Concerned Daughter

 

DEAR CONCERNED: Millions of adult children today serve as financial caregivers to their ill or elderly parents or other loved ones. 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:

The first step in helping your mom is to have a thoughtful talk with her, expressing your concerns, and offering your help in simplifying her financial life. If you’re uncomfortable starting up the conversation, use this column as a prompter. It’s also a good idea to get your siblings or other family members on board to help make your case. This can help you head off possible hard feelings, plus, with others involved, your mom will know everyone is concerned, not just you.

If your mom is willing to let you help manage her financial affairs your first order of business is to get organized by making a list of all her financial accounts, and make copies of her important documents. This will help you get a handle on her overall financial situation and let you know if any important documents are missing. Your list should include her:

Monthly bills: Phone, cable, water and trash, gas, electric, credit-card accounts, etc.

Bank accounts: Checking, savings and safe-deposit boxes.

Retirement accounts: Social Security, pensions, IRAs and 401(k)s.

Brokerage accounts and investments.

Insurance policies: Life, home, auto, long-term care, Medicare, etc.

Important documents: Will, advanced medical directive, which includes a living will and health-care proxy, and durable power of attorney, which gives one or more people the legal authority to handle her finances if she becomes incapacitated. Make sure these documents are prepared.

Taxes: Copies of your mom’s or parent’s income tax returns over the past few years.

Contact list: Names and phone numbers of key contacts like insurance agents, financial adviser, tax preparer, family attorney, etc.

The easiest ways to simplify your mom’s monthly financial chores is to set up automatic payments for her utilities and other routine bills, and arrange for direct deposit (see godirect.org) of her Social Security, pensions and other income sources. You can also make arrangements to have her bank and bill statements mailed directly to you so you can monitor what’s coming in and going out each month. Another option to consider is online bill paying through your mom’s bank, if available, or you can use sites like paytrust.com or mycheckfree.com.

Depending on the amount and complexity of your mom’s assets, both of you should sit down with your family financial adviser to review her investments and financial situation. If you don’t have one, find a reputable fee-only financial planner who can help you put a smart plan in place. Fee-only planners don’t make commissions by selling you financial products, and typically charge a flat or hourly fee, which can be around $200 to $300 an hour. To locate one, see napfa.org or garrettplanningnetwork.com.

If you need some help or live far away from your mom, you may want to consider hiring a daily money manager. This is a trained professional who can come in once or twice a month to pay bills, make deposits, decipher health insurance statements and balance her checkbook. Costs range between $25 and $100 per hour. To locate one in your area, visit aadmm.com or call 877-326-5991. If your mom is lower income, a similar service is offered by AARP (see aarpmmp.org) in select communities for free.

If your mom is having a hard time meeting her monthly expenses, go to benefitscheckup.org to find out if she can qualify for any assistance programs.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.