Being a caregiver, many people think about the physical aspects of caregiving; but caregiving encompasses many things, including finances.
– Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FGSA, FAAN
Many aspects of caregiving are easy to talk about – who will take Mom or Dad to a doctor’s appointment? Who will find a home health agency for additional help? But money is often a taboo topic that no one wants to touch. However, when it comes to our aging parents – let’s face it – we can’t afford to tiptoe around the bank account.
Talking about money doesn’t have to be scary—it can actually become part of routine conversations. If you’re wondering how to start these conversations with your parents, consider the following tips from the author, speaker, and award-winning journalist with 20 years of experience writing about personal finance—Cameron Huddleston.
Tune in to this episode of This Is Getting Old: Moving Towards an Age-Friendly World. With Cameron Huddleston’s advice, you and your aging parents will have easier conversations and feel more secure every time money’s brought up.
Key points covered in this episode:
✔️Signs That Parents Need More Help With Finances
Cameron shared her personal experience of how she had plenty of opportunities to have financial conversations but never realized it was a conversation she needed to have with her mom until she saw that she needed help with her finances.
“It was initially pretty easy to ignore the signs that she was experiencing memory loss because she also had hearing loss. When she would ask a question, and I would answer her, and she would ask it again, I would tell myself, Oh, it’s because she didn’t hear my response.” Cameron shared.
“That went on for several months, maybe even a year. But it was when I was visiting her one evening, and she asked me if I wanted to go see a bench that she had bought for her back patio. So we went, looked at the bench, and came back inside, and a few minutes later, she asked me again, “Do you want to see the new bench I just bought?” continued Cameron.
At that very moment, her heart sank because she knew what happened was not a hearing issue. Her mom had forgotten they had just gone outside and looked at her bench. That’s the time Cameron knew that there was something clearly wrong.
✔️ Do’s And Don’ts During Money Talks
Don’t: What you don’t want to do is put your parent on the defensive, “Hey, mom, you’re forgetting things, so that means I need to be managing your finances for you.”
She still remembers many things, so if you tell her that she cannot handle her finances, you will likely put her on the defensive. She’s going to shut down. She’s going to push you away—you have offended her.
Do: Instead, you’re going to want to look for the financial tasks that your parent needs the most help with. It will most likely be avoiding scams because if they’re experiencing memory loss, their financial decision-making ability is impacted. They’re at a much greater risk of being scammed.
Also, paying bills because if there is memory loss, they’re probably having trouble staying on top of their finances and making bill payments on time, or maybe they’re paying the bills twice.
It’s as simple as saying to them, “Hey, you know, I have found that a great timesaver for me having my bills set up to be paid automatically. Would you like me to help you do that?”
So then you’re going to sit down with them at a computer, and you’re going to log into those accounts and keep a record (in a safe place) of usernames and passwords for these accounts.
✔️ How To Start The Conversation?
If you have a parent who is reluctant to let you get involved with their finances, getting that third party involved is essential. Maybe it’s the doctor, a lawyer, or a financial adviser. For example, maybe you notice that your parent is experiencing memory loss, and you go with your parent to a doctor’s visit. There are tests that should be done (See Episode 19: How Alzheimer’s Disease is Diagnosed), and there comes back a diagnosis of some form of dementia. If you’re there in the doctor’s office with your parent, this is an opportunity to ask questions.
“Okay. Mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “What sort of assistance is she going to need?”
“Does that mean she will need help with money matters now?”
Ask those questions to the doctor so that the doctor—the third party—tells the parent, “Because you have dementia now, your financial decision-making ability is impacted.”
✔️ When to Start Financial Conversations
Ideally, you should have a financial conversation before there are any health issues— before there’s an emergency because banks and other financial institutions, even though they’re not supposed to, can make it difficult for caregivers to get involved with their loved ones’ finances, even if they have the necessary legal documents.
There are a variety of ways that you can bring finances up in the flow of a conversation:
- What-if Scenarios: You can simply ask about what-if scenarios, what if something were to happen? What if you were in the hospital, and I needed to make sure your bills were getting paid? How would I do that? Are your bills being paid automatically, or are you writing checks every month? That’s really a simple way to start the conversation.
- Shared Experiences: “Hey, I found this really awesome retirement savings calculator online, and I realized it wasn’t saving enough for retirement.” And so the conversation starts by asking them about their retirement. You know, how did you plan for your retirement? Did you have a retirement savings account, or are you getting a pension? Is it just Social Security, or if they haven’t retired yet, what are your plans for retirement? You can ease your way into the conversation.
- Lessons Learned: You can share a story about someone you know who had to get involved with their parent’s care, maybe someone who lost a parent. They didn’t have a will, which created all sorts of headaches for the family members who were left behind. And on top of that grief, they’re dealing with the fallout from the parent’s lack of financial planning.
- News and Information Sharing: You can also start by warning them about scams, “Hey, I just got a phone call from someone claiming to be at the IRS, and they told me that I had to pay back taxes, I had to get a gift card to make this payment. I just want you to know that this is a common scam.” So you’re going to share scam red flags with them. You share articles with them, and then you encourage them to set up some account monitoring on their account.
✔️ Avoid Financial Forensics: You Don’t Want To Have To Play Detective
Cameron’s discovered her mom had one investment account when she was already in a memory care facility. This meant that all of her mail was coming to Cameron, and she got a notice from this company saying that her account was going to be turned over to the state for lack of activity. When Cameron looked into it, there was $50,000 in this account that Cameron never knew even existed. If she had sat down with her mom while she was healthy to get a list of all of her accounts, Cameron wouldn’t have lost $50,000 of her mom’s money that she needed to be taken care of as she aged.
“The biggest lesson I learned is that I should have had conversations with her while she was still healthy because I had to play detective. I had to figure out what sort of accounts she had—and it was difficult,” Cameron shared.
If you have questions, or comments or need help, please feel free to drop a one-minute audio or video clip and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will get back to you by recording an answer to your question.
More Resources About Memory And Alzheimer’s Disease …
This Is Getting Old has several other episodes about memory and Alzheimer’s. You can check them out below:
- EP: 65 – What are the Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease? Part I: Symptoms of Early- and Late-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
- EP: 66 – What are the Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease? Part II: Symptoms of Late- and End-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
- EP: 64 – Alzheimer’s Disease and Living Alone: Four Signs Someone May Not Be Safe at Home Alone
- EP: 63 – Alzheimer’s Disease and Driving: Five Signs That It’s Time to Take the Keys
- EP 38: Ten Tips for Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease
I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (‘96) and Master of Science in Nursing (‘00) as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Nursing (SON). I truly enjoy working with the complex medical needs of older adults. I worked full-time for five years as FNP in geriatric primary care across many long-term care settings (skilled nursing homes, assisted living, home and office visits) then transitioned into academic nursing in 2005, joining the faculty at UNCW SON as a lecturer.
I obtained my PhD in Nursing and a post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing Education from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing (2011) ) and then joined the faculty at Duke University School of Nursing as an Assistant Professor. My family moved to northern Virginia in 2015 and led to me joining the faculty at George Washington University (GW) School of Nursing in 2018 as a (tenured) Associate Professor where I am also the Director of the GW Center for Aging, Health and Humanities.
Find out more about her work HERE.