Newsletter Articles

How Much Should You Know About Aging Parents' Finances?

By: Carolyn Rosenblatt

Elder Law Associates Newsletter dated December 26, 2018

While some of our aging parents are open and willing to share information about their finances, many are not. Perhaps their reluctance is the profound effect of living through the Great Depression when fear, secrecy and panic prevailed over the era. Many elders still don't trust banks, have multiple accounts, and keep their financial affairs secret even from those closest to them. Is there a problem with this? Of course.

They won't live forever and as their health declines with age, someone has to know what they have and how to access it. Long term care for aging parents can take every asset they have. Likewise, we need to monitor their finances to protect them from predators.

In our own family when our matriarch began to need help, her son looked over what she had and began monitoring her expenses and spending weekly. That turned out to be extremely important. His mother was tricked into giving out her Social Security number and other personal details by a clever phone fraudster, making her immediately vulnerable to theft. We nipped this in the bud, fortunately, but in doing so we realized that she didn't need five bank accounts and multiple credit cards. So we consolidated, closed unnecessary accounts and reduced her to two credit cards. When asked why she had so many bank accounts, there was never a clear answer.

The lesson in this is that any aging parent can lose track of where the money is when memory begins to slip. Our own elder, once very sharp and able to sniff out a scammer right away, had fallen for a classic trick: someone posing as a Social Security representative just wanted to "confirm her information". Her cognitive function was still good at 90 years of age but was definitely eroded by age 94 when the scammer nailed her. We were paying attention and being proactive at the first early warning signs of cognitive decline, which is our message so often at When we went to all five banks with her, the easiest way to promptly close accounts and consolidate funds for her it was still a long process. We knew where the accounts were and could access the statements. She could actually walk in with us and verify that this was what she wanted to do. Anyone who is not informed of what accounts exist and where the assets are may not be so efficient.

Without information about her accounts and her investments, it would have created a serious mess. Some banks, over-reacting to concerns of financial abuse, will not accept a state's regular, legal signed Power of Attorney (POA) form. They want their own bank (POA) form signed. They want to talk to the elder in person. An elder who develops dementia may not remember what to say or how to address a problem like fraud. We have seen cases when the elder was homebound and couldn't go into the bank due to physical and mental difficulties. The bank was trying to protect the customer while simultaneously aiding a thief by delay in freezing or closing an account because the elder could not come into the bank.

What every adult child can do is this: ask for access to your aging parents' financial information while they are still aware of what is going on in their lives. If they refuse, keep asking. Use a birthday, loss of a family member or other marker of time as a reason to approach the older person. Eventually you may be needed to pay bills, monitor accounts or act in an emergency that creates a sudden need for funds.  When it comes to financial abuse, to which everyone can be vulnerable, knowing how to get to accounts to stop theft is critical. At the end of an aging parent's life, someone also has to close accounts and administer the estate. If you know where every financial asset is located, account numbers and passwords will help you or the administrator tremendously. Make it simple for yourself looking ahead.

Responsible adult children do what they need to do to ensure aging parents' safety and dignity. Knowing your loved ones' financial picture is part of that responsibility. It may take persuasion and persistence on your part to get them to be transparent. Any effort you make to overcome their resistance is worth it.

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