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Helping Older Relatives with Finances

The warning signs that your parent or other older relative needs help may be subtle. Unfortunately, it is very likely that someone close to you will need help with what seems like simple tasks as they age. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 1 in 3 seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Seniors with early dementia are easy targets for phishing schemes, tax scams, and outright theft. Protecting your parents’ life savings and retirement goes hand-in-hand with protecting their dignity.

Financial Red Flags

To decide whether your relatives need help, you can check out the list of the 10 Signs of Alzheimer’s. As well, some red flags may be specifically financial, such as:

  • Confusion about whether direct mail offers are advertising or bills
  • Failing to pay bills and taxes
  • Failing to file documents or balance a checkbook properly
  • Overpaying bills or paying the same one multiple times
  • Sudden or unfamiliar purchasing habits or investments
  • Comments about not having enough money
  • Gambling, especially if unprecedented
  • Piles of unopened mail
  • Becoming forgetful about, or withdrawing and hiding, cash

Be especially alert for these signs if your relative:

  • was previously highly organized
  • has experienced loss of a spouse or depression
  • is using new medications


What to do

A family therapist or even your relative’s physician can help you start the discussion with your relatives if you are not sure where to start. Once you have, you can start to take these steps into protecting your parents:

  • Enlist family members to help. This first step is the most important. The wider your support system, the better you will be able to manage your parents’ and your own business. One person can be involved with bills, another with healthcare and doctors’ appointments, etc. Consider hiring a financial planner, home health aide, or other team as necessary.
  • Find all financial accounts, bills, and documents. You may need to open your parents’ safe-deposit box to find some of these items. Pay any outstanding bills, and decide whether you need to cancel credit cards. If your relative can still complete some of these activities, ask if you can have access to their accounts (Online or Mobile banking is a good option) and monitor their spending for any drastic changes.
  • Locate the power of attorney and living trust. You may want to discuss with your parents if you or a sibling should become your parent’s legal guardian.
  • Document everything you do.
  • Put your parents on the No-call list: While this will not prevent nonprofits from soliciting donations, it should keep away the bulk of telemarketers. Visit to register their phone numbers.