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Planning, communication key to managing finances
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Handling finances can be difficult at any age, but older Mississippians face even greater challenges when expenses rise and forgetfulness sets in.
At what point adult children need to step in with assistance is a personal decision for every family, said Susan Cosgrove, family resource management associate with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
“Each adult child must look for signs of changes in their parents’ behavior to know when it is time to help,” Cosgrove said. “If there are siblings, before you do anything, you must communicate to make sure everyone is in agreement and working together to understand that the parents’ welfare is what you’re all concerned with.”
Cosgrove said it is vital for adult children to work with their parents after deciding to get involved in the parents’ finances.
“You don’t want them to be unhappy because they are no longer involved in the decisions that affect them,” she said.
Cosgrove and her sister share the responsibility of overseeing their 97-year-old mother’s finances. Based on her experience, she said it is best to get involved and make some management decisions years before they are expected to be needed.
“Some families put parents’ assets into a life estate that protects them and allows the parents to live in their house without requiring that asset to be sold to pay for long-term care,” Cosgrove said. “Make sure to consult with an attorney and financial advisor to learn details that affect these assets.”
Those with fewer assets still may need a hand with financial matters. Cosgrove suggested setting up bank drafts to pay for recurring bills when possible. Another approach is to ask the parent to set all bills aside until the adult child can come on a regular basis and pay them.
Record keeping is important in every situation, as is having a clear idea of the parent’s assets and any liabilities, Cosgrove said.
“Even if there is not a large estate to protect, you need to be looking out to make sure that nothing is happening to your parents’ money and that they are not being taken advantage of,” she said. “Older adults are often the target of fraud.”
In desperate times, relatives can even commit fraud and theft against their family members. Adult children must make thoughtful plans to put responsible people in charge and protect a parent’s finances, Cosgrove recommended.
It helps when a parent is willing to make arrangements in advance for when an adult child must assume control of financial matters. This cooperation makes it easier to change addresses and names on financial accounts, and the aging parent can grant power of attorney to the person they choose.
Patty Swearingen, Lauderdale County Extension coordinator, is in a similar situation with her 96-year-old mother, who lives with Swearingen and her husband. Swearingen knew it was time to help manage the finances when her mother began writing multiple checks, forgetting she had already written one.
“I knew I had to get involved, so I took control of all her financial matters,” Swearingen said. “Many of her bills were set up on bank draft, but I went through and found all the bills that had to be paid, including those that come on an irregular schedule or only a few times a year.”
Swearingen’s two brothers were comfortable having her handle their mother’s financial matters.
“Whatever you do, make sure the rest of the family know what’s going on,” she said. “It makes it easier in the long run once they know you’re not mishandling the money or taking advantage of the situation.”
The MSU Extension Service offers a variety of resources to help prepare Mississippians for this challenge. Publications include information on planning an estate. Programs include sessions on wills and passing on personal belongings. Visit http://extension.msstate.edu/ to learn more.