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Things to consider and ways we can assist our senior parents and loved ones in managing their finances

Spring is upon us, and you know what that means: bluebonnets, beautiful weather, AND tax season. It’s that special time of year when we call to mind our earnings and spending and scramble to gather financial information. 

With today’s technology, tracking and managing your spending and finances, even the act of making a purchase is easy and accessible with the ability to do it all from your phone or computer. While technology can help make life a little easier, it might not always be the case particularly with the seniors in our lives. There may come a time when they need assistance with monitoring their financial activity with it possibly becoming too much to manage. Another important topic to consider is preparing for what happens after they are gone. It can be tough to approach, bringing stress and possibly even denial from both sides whether you’re the adult child who must take on the responsibility of providing assistance or the senior parent or loved one who must face the reality that handling that part of your life may be more than you can manage and need help. If you fall into either of these roles, understanding the situation, creating and timing a plan to go into action, and communicating throughout the process will aid in avoiding confusion and financial mishaps that could possibly occur.

When I married into my husband’s family, I always heard about Silly Millie, his grandmother on his father’s side. She was 87 when I joined the family. Millie was the sweetest lady, so funny, full of life, loving of her four boys (and grandchildren), smart, and, without fail, always dressed to impress. One of my favorite Millie stories is her penchant for always looking fashionable and the spending she did to maintain that. Her fashion sense was something she acquired from a young age while working as an executive assistant to the vice-president at Pittsburgh’s PPG and continued it on through her golden years even after retirement. The standout of this story, and now humorous part for all of our family, is how her four sons could not keep up with the spending habits of their 80-something-year-old mother, and they all agree she was smarter than they were. It didn’t help that they were all spread out across the country to have a better grasp of the spending she did, but some of her favorite spots included the woman’s clothing store Chico’s and shopping channels. She also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy gifts for her family. As long as banks kept sending her credit cards, she kept opening accounts, assuming it was ok since she was preapproved. Her story is a real-life example of what could happen when things slip through the cracks and go unmonitored, and it also presents signs to look out for and ways to prepare to ensure your loved one’s quality of life is cared for and unaffected with financial burdens.  

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Starting a conversation to address financial information may be hard to begin for a number of reasons, the biggest one being he or she is the parent, and you don’t want to overstep boundaries. 

It is important to be firm, determined, and explain your input as an advisory role to help to ensure money is going to the right places. A good time to begin this conversation may be at the time they are considering retirement — does he or she have a plan in place for maintaining the lifestyle he currently has? Your role as the advisor can help in learning the financial state your loved one is in: where will income come from and how much will be received from retirement savings and social security? Sometimes retirement income combined with social security earnings is not enough to cover big expenses such as a mortgage, rent, and other incidental expenses. Another essential factor is accounting for any debt, how much and from where. To go along with that, it is also very important to know what type of spending habits he possesses. Has he always been a big spender on frivolous items or frugal about small and big purchases? Maybe setting up automated payment schedules for monthly expenses could save time and confusion to ensure those are covered. And if you begin to see more spending on unnecessary items, check to make sure there is not an underlying issue associated with it. My family found that Millie had gone through a period of depression after her husband died and began using spending as a way to fill a void. Reminders should also be put out there to be wary of any preapproved credit accounts received and any telemarketer calls offering savings on unwanted products and services. 

Throughout it all, communication is key between you, your siblings, and your loved one. It is especially vital when the time comes to consider and discuss what happens after they are gone. This conversation can be particularly hard, but I’ve found from personal experience that a window of opportunity to discuss these matters can sometimes arise from the passing of another, whether it is a family member or friend. You or your loved can use that time to turn the discussion toward her to discuss if a will is drawn or if one is already in place and what is planned and outlined within it if any life insurance policies are available, and the biggest factor for these documents is where they can be found. Even funeral arrangements can be discussed. Many times senior parents have already made all of the necessary preparations and covered the expenses associated with it to alleviate that burden for their families. As the recipient of this information, it might be hard to accept and listen, but it is important not to dismiss or forget information shared.

Planning and preparing won’t happen overnight, but working together can save unwanted worry and stress for all involved in more ways than one. 

By Jennifer O’Neill

Jennifer O'Neill

Contributing Writer