Elder abuse is an unfortunately prominent issue—and financial abuse is one of the most common of attacks. If you’re a caregiver, professionally or not, you may have realized that your patient or loved one is vulnerable to financial abuse. Whether it is from phone call scams that are too good to be true or inability to navigate today’s common financial systems, seniors are vulnerable to myriad challenges. While it’s always best to rely on a trusted financial advisor, oftentimes caregivers find themselves in the role of financial advisor mediator and translator, especially since you see and interact with them on a daily basis.
Two key financial issues for the elderly include managing retirement funds and handling medical bills. The older a person gets, the more mental, physical and visual impairments can hamper their financial health. Losing a spouse who handles finances or brings in an income can be a major blow to finances, and immigrant elders with lack of familiarity with local tax and bank procedures (as well as command of English) face additional obstacles.
If you’re concerned about someone you love or care for and their financial situation, the first step is to encourage them to work with a reputable financial advisor who specializes in senior finances. If that’s not an option, consider taking these steps:
- Assess the home. Sometimes signs of financial trouble are right in front of us. Are there alot of unpaid bills, financial papers, or other red flags scattered around? If you ask the person how they manage their money, are they able to explain their system to you or (in some cases) show you how they file? If not, it might be a sign that they’re cautious about sharing such sensitive information with you (which can be a good thing) or they might not have a system in place or know how (a sign that help is needed).
- Help with bill pay. Sometimes the biggest hurdles have relatively easy answers. If the person simply has trouble remembering to pay regular bills, that’s a role you can fill. Consider setting them up with autopay so they don’t have to worry about sending in a payment or trying to navigate all the numbers and voice commands to pay over the phone. If they would be better off having you handle the bills, manage the calendar so you can ensure their bills (and yours) are paid in a timely manner.
- Organize their system. Another simple way to overcome hurdles related to finances is to spend some time organizing. Bring in a binder or folder and create sections for each financial area such as bills, bank statements, receipts, invoices, etc.
- Talk to other “team members.” Discussing the situation with family members, doctors and others involved in the care of the patient can help keep you on the same page. Doctors may have a wildly different opinion on the mental capacity of the person. A family member might be aware of the person’s history with poor financial decisions, from addiction challenges to repeated bankruptcy filings. Get the most comprehensive picture possible before taking a next step. Build a support system that you can share the role with to ensure nothing gets overlooked. It can be hard to manage more than one person’s finances, so having another pair of watchful eyes certainly never hurt.
- “Audit” their finances. If it’s within your role and you have permission, look over their checkbooks, bank statements, and credit card charges. Keep an eye out for unusual activity such as unfamiliar transfers, payments, double entries, or donations to charities. Watch for recurring payments for rent, mortgages, utilities, and other consistent bills. Also, keep an eye out for unnecessary expenses and ways to save money. Double check insurance policies to see if they’re in effect or outdated. For example, it’s possible a current life insurance policy may no longer be necessary, in which case it can be sold for a life settlement to help with living expenses. Additionally, you might find they’re no longer capable of managing their own finances or uncover signs of financial exploitation.
Particularly if you’re caring for a loved one, helping them with financial wellness is often a realm you’re not qualified to handle. However, it is within your scope to help them get to a better financial system and help protect them from exploitation. Even if you’re not worried about financial health now, research local financial advisors so you have resources ready if and when the time comes.
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