Money can be a sensitive topic for older adults; however, managing finances is often a key role for caregivers. In some cases, an older adult will want to retain their financial independence, even if they are no longer capable of carrying out the tasks required to do this. For example, you may notice that they are starting to forget to pay bills, making unwise purchases, or getting confused when they look at their bank accounts.
In the instance that an older adult can no longer look after their finances, it may be in the best interest for a loved one to step in and assist them. However, given the sensitive nature of the topic, it requires a gentle approach.
A number of older adults can be resistant to allow someone else to deal with their finances, so it’s important to take it slow, speak to them openly, and be patient with them.
The following are some of our tips for helping older loved ones with their finances.
1. Work Closely with Your Loved One
In most cases, it won’t be necessary to completely take over your older relative’s finances straight away. When you first get involved, your loved one will likely still be able to manage certain aspects of their finances relatively well. As such, it’s important to be respectful of their thoughts and opinions and work with them rather than taking over. Ensure they know that you’re not trying to take control away from them but rather that you are trying to help. It may be a good idea to start with something small, such as organising payment for bills each month.
If your loved one is living with dementia or another cognitive impairment, this may not be possible and you may need to be involved sooner, making decisions on their behalf. Even in this instance, it’s important to make them feel like they are included and in control of their finances.
2. Inform Other Family Members
Money can cause problems within even the closest of families. If you do get involved in your loves one’s finances, it may be wise to let other family members know what you need to do and your reasoning behind it. They may want to know more information or be involved in the process. If your loved one is happy for other family members to be involved, this can help avoid conflicts later.
Holding regular meetings to discuss finances can be a good way to keep everyone in the loop. It may also be a good idea to keep a record of any significant discussions and decisions around your older relative’s finances in case there are disputes in the future.
3. Access their Financial Accounts
You can get authorisation to conduct transactions, write checks or withdraw money from your loved one’s accounts. You can also be authorised as a “deputy” or “agent” to get access to a safe deposit box. However, getting access to your loved one’s bank accounts can be difficult, as banks and other financial institutions have rules in place outlining who can access accounts. Even if you already have Power of Attorney, you will likely have to fill out some paperwork, which requires some advance planning. Before getting access to any accounts and signing paperwork, you should consult with a lawyer that specialises in law, a financial planner, or another qualified professional who can offer guidance. The Australian government provides a free Financial Information Service to help make informed decisions about finances. State governments also provide help relevant to where you or your loved one lives.
4. Organise Important Documents
It is important to know where financial documents are kept so that they can be located in the event of an emergency or if your loved one becomes incapacitated. Organising these documents gives you the ability to protect your loved one’s assets if they are unable to look after them on their own.
Documents that you may need to access can include:
- Bank statements
- Insurance policy information
- Superannuation details
- Mortgage information
- Car title
If your loved one is concerned about you having access to this information, it’s important to reassure them that you will only use the information in an emergency.
5. Be Prepared
It is important to ensure your loved one has a will or estate plan in place. These are legal documents that outline how they want their assets to be distributed when they pass away. If they don’t currently have a will, or if their will is out-dated, you may want to encourage them to meet with an estate lawyer.
It may also be necessary for them to complete other legal documents such as a Power of Attorney, which allows an appointed person to make decisions on their behalf in the event of an emergency.
Again, the Australian government is a good and reliable source of information for elder care and senior support.
If you’re currently caring for an older relative, or if you think you will be in the near future, you can find out information on the support available for carers from the Better Health Channel: Looking after yourself as a carer. If you want to find out more about the content of this blog, and how our courses or workshops may be able to help you as a carer, don’t hesitate to get in touch.