Becoming Involved in Your Aging Parent’s Finances
by Candy Arrington
“Listen with respect to the father who raised you, and when your mother grows old, don’t neglect her.” (Proverbs 23:22 MSG)
The shifting roles of adult children and aging parents is a tightrope walk. While you want to respect your parents’ intelligence and independence, there comes a time when it’s evident they aren’t handling tasks they once managed on their own. While some areas are immediately obvious, like failing to maintain house and yard, financial issues sometimes slip by unnoticed.
I first became aware my mother was struggling with financial tasks when I opened a stack of mail for her, at her request, and saw that the interest rate on her only credit card had skyrocketed to 36%! With investigation, I discovered my mother was consistently paying her bills late, not because she lacked funds, but because she was only writing checks once every six weeks. In looking through her checkbook, I also noticed lots of voided checks, the result of incorrectly writing out the amount. That’s when I realized the task of bill-paying had become too difficult for her. I knew I needed to take over, but was afraid she’d be offended if I suggested it. Instead, she was grateful and relieved.
Things to consider about becoming involved in your parent’s finances:
Sometimes it’s difficult to determine if your parents are having a hard time because they are clever about hiding their struggles. Pride can be a factor, but also not wanting to be a burden to their children. If you are able to, increase the frequency of visits and be observant. Don’t follow a regular pattern. Drop by on different days, at different times of the day. Look to see if there are stacks of unopened mail, including bills and bank statements. This is a sure sign your parent isn’t keeping up with finances and needs more help than you realized.
No matter how old you are, there remains a little part that is slightly fearful of incurring a parent’s wrath. Often we don’t acknowledge and approach topics because we’re afraid of a parent’s anger or we know taking on a task will change our schedule and add responsibility. However, it is to everyone’s advantage to become involved in your parent’s finances before mistakes are made or things are overlooked that have a negative impact on their future and yours.
Look for and take advantage of opportunities
One of the best ways to broach difficult subjects with your parent is to use a newspaper article or the experience of someone else as a springboard for discussion. I was able to bring up the topic of advance directives with my mother following the funeral of a relative who had lingered on life-support for months because she had no advance directives and her children didn’t want to make the decision. As I gingerly navigated the conversation, my mother surprised me by saying, “I’d like to have a living will. I don’t want to be kept alive by machines.” The next week, we went to the attorney’s office and she signed the papers. What could have been a very ticklish conversation went well and culminated in an important decision and action. The same can happen with financial decisions.
Think from your parent’s perspective
Most of us don’t appreciate being told what to do or having someone bustle in and take over. From your parent’s point of view, it may feel as if you are implying incompetence. It’s always better to offer to help rather than announcing a takeover. The approach and tone of voice is important. Erase any hint of annoyance from your voice. Speak calmly and let the approach be along the line of your parent instructing you. “Dad, what is your system for bill-paying? I’m not sure the way I do it is as efficient as it could be, and I’m interested to see how you handle it.”
Locate important papers
If you are successful getting a financial discussion going with your parent, you can eventually ask the location of important papers, account numbers, access codes and passwords. Your parent may be resistant at first, but again, you may be able to use an example of someone else’s experience as your reasoning. “Jane’s mother had a medical emergency and has been in the hospital for a month. Her mother pays her bills online and Jane can’t access her online account because she doesn’t know passwords.” Appeal to your parent’s sense of practicality by reminding that someone needs to be able to step in and handle finances, if necessary.
Allow your parent to remain involved
Initially, your parents may be more receptive to your limited involvement in their finances. Feeling they are training you rather than you are taking over eases pride and makes them feel they aren’t totally losing control. Suggest that your parents discuss any big financial decisions with you before launching into action. Perpetrators of financial scams abound and aging parents are a prime target. The “perps” often employ a sense of urgency (your bank account will be drained or your computer will self-destruct in the next hour unless) or tug at the heartstrings (your grandson away in college has been falsely arrested and needs money for an attorney) to get “marks” to make hasty decisions that are financially disastrous. Encourage your parents to discuss anything of this nature with you, and remind them that if some request demands immediate action or sounds like a big financial gain, it’s probably a scam.
As you become more involved in your parent’s finances, let integrity be your hallmark. Sometimes it’s tempting to borrow some of your parent’s money when your own account balance is low, but don’t take advantage of the trust a parent places in you, and remain above reproach. Scripture admonishes us to honor our parents, not just as children, but always.
Candy Arrington is coauthor of When Your Aging Parent Needs Care (Harvest House). Her writing provides insights, encouragement, and practical support, often on tough topics. A native South Carolinian, Candy gains writing inspiration from vintage photographs, historic architecture, nature and the application of Scripture to everyday life. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and Christian Authors Network. www.CandyArrington.com
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