Signs Your Aging Parents Need Help Managing Their Finances

One of the best way to help your aging parents avoid the pain and loss of financial exploitation or financial elder abuse is to recognize that they need some help managing their money BEFORE someone takes advantage of them.

At what point should you step in to help your parents manage their finances? A recent article in Money Magazine details some of the red flags to watch out for:

• They are dealing with issues that are new to them. In many marriages — especially in your parents’ generation — husbands and wives split up financial duties. When one of your parents dies or becomes seriously ill, the other will very likely be handling unfamiliar problems, whether it’s picking mutual funds or making sure the utility and cable bills are sent out on time. Anyone in that situation, young or old, could benefit from extra help or advice.

They’re still sharp but find money tasks more taxing. Even normal aging can bring gradual changes in mental function. Those changes may not affect the ability to make sound financial decisions, but if Dad takes longer to work with numbers than he used to, he may become less diligent about checking his account statements.

General health issues can also make things harder…. Other possible red flags: increased complaints about having to fill out forms from an insurer or brokerage, trouble reading fine print, or a general rise in stress about paying bills.

They are showing signs of bigger problems. About half of people in their eighties suffer from significant cognitive impairment. That includes Alzheimer’s but also other issues. This mental deterioration often takes families by surprise. “Older people may be able to answer questions and respond well in social situations, but people end up shocked when they finally look at their finances,” says Beth Kallmyer of the Alzheimer’s Association.

So what should you be on the lookout for? A recent paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association lists warning signs. Your parent might have forgotten to pay utility bills or rent, or could be having trouble making change or writing checks. Or they may complain that money is missing from their bank account or that someone is stealing from them. Of course, your parents may never get to that point — and it’s best to start the process of helping well before they do.

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Studies show that diminished financial skills and errors can be the first indications of memory and reasoning problems — signs that can make your aging parents appealing targets for financial exploitation and abuse.

Having that first talk with your aging parents about their finances isn’t easy. But the sooner you start a conversation, the better. Need some good advice about how to break the ice about this delicate topic? For solid tips about how to talk to your aging parents about money, check out this brief video.