Protecting elderly parents’ finances: what’s next when mom or dad show signs of dementia?
For financial caregivers, proactivity is key for protecting elderly parents' finances, especially when there is memory loss or signs of dementia.

September 16, 2021

Jody Holt

illustration of adult son helping an elderly mother with an alert on her phone protecting elderly parents' finances

For financial caregivers, proactivity is key for protecting elderly parents’ finances, especially when there is memory loss or signs of dementia. Planning ahead, developing a checklist, and working through it is a wise investment of time that brings peace of mind for the entire family.

Sometimes dementia is evident before a formal diagnosis. You know your parent and you can see that they repeat themselves or ask the same question two or three times, and then again, an hour later. Or worse, they are beginning to forget things like your name or your sister’s name. Another early sign your aging parents need more help is that they may be making financial mistakes. Often, they are embarrassed by these mistakes and try to pretend they did not happen, but even worse is when they do not realize a misstep occurred.

If this is the case, proactive preparation of essential estate documents makes many things easier in the long run. Gaining access to your aging parents’ estate, financial, and personal documents is a critical step. Key documents include wills, revocable living trusts, beneficiary designations, power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney and living wills, digital asset trusts, letters of intent, and other important documents related to insurance, banking, annuities, deeds, and investments.

If they don’t have estate documents prepared or they are not up to date, you may want to reach out to an attorney.  An elder law or estate attorney helps families understand state laws and financial options and how to preserve the assets. It is a wise decision to get a sense of the fees charged before making an appointment.  You may also want to check the local state Bar Association – sometimes they offer free legal aid.

If dementia has become a reality for your aging parent, a family member will need to be proactive in encouraging key discussions and decisions. For example, it is better to create a Durable Power of Attorney while your parent or loved one still has “legal capacity” to make decisions on their own, meaning they can still understand the decisions and what they mean.

There are resources you can also tap to become better informed. Did you know that you can discuss advanced care planning decisions with a doctor during the annual wellness visit covered by Medicare? Some private insurance companies cover these discussions.

You may also want to consider speaking with a senior care specialist. Trained social workers and geriatric care managers can be very helpful in navigating the different decisions, particularly around finding an assisted living or memory care facility. They know the questions to ask and they are familiar with the different facilities. They know the level of care decisions and understand what activities of daily living (“ADLs”) can be offered and can help evaluate what Mom or Dad needs. These people are trained and work with many families to help educate them so they can make better decisions. You should not be expected to know all the answers. You go through this maybe, one or two times in your life. They work with all sorts of different families with diverse needs daily. Ask ahead of time how they get paid. Some charge an hourly fee or a retainer, but many are paid for by the long-term care facilities – not by you or your family. They will often help evaluate the costs and visit the facilities with you. They also often have a good sense of which communities have availability.

So, what can you do? Steps for Protecting Elderly Parents’ Finances

Proactivity is key for protecting elderly parents’ finances when there is memory loss or signs of dementia. The sooner you begin to gather important information and store it in a safe, secure place that you can share with other trusted caregivers, the more helpful you can be to your parent. You will be asked over and over again for the essential documents. It is helpful to have them all at your fingertips.

The second key task you can do is review the plans regularly with your loved ones. For example, we think that parents don’t want to talk about end-of-life wishes but sometimes this can help provide peace of mind. Did you know that many funeral homes have pre-planning services? You can plan the funeral ahead of time. Medicaid allows you to pre-pay for a funeral up to approximately $12,000 without impacting eligibility for Medicaid. Check with your state Medicaid office.

If you see a pile of mail at home, you may want to go through it. This could be a sign of unpaid utility bills, which is a common problem with those who have dementia. Set up automatic payments as soon as possible and discuss getting online banking access so you can review transactions and look for irregularities, such as double payments or possible fraud. You can lower the risk of scams and fraud by registering the phone number with DoNotCall.gov and limiting the volume of solicitations in the mail through DMAchoice.org.

Dementia is degenerative and requires action to best care for and protect your loved ones. Make sure to establish consent to manage the finances as soon as possible. You may also want to plan for in-home or long-term care costs associated with assisted living. It’s very helpful to have permission from your loved one with dementia to be able to talk to their lawyer or doctor. Advanced permission can help with all sorts of questions, including enabling you to speak to the credit card company, the financial advisor or a bank on their behalf.

There are a lot of details to consider when a parent begins showing signs of dementia. Planning ahead, developing a checklist, and working through it is a wise investment of time that brings peace of mind for the entire family. Automated digital tools to store and access this information – such as Kincern – guide the process and drastically simplify it. This is yet another wise investment at a critical time.

Kincern makes managing parents’ finances and documents easier.

 Financial caregiving begins with Kincern.

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