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Figuring Out A Parent’s Financial Life, When They Cannot

Statistics tell us that it is very likely one or both of our parents will end up in a nursing home or rehabilitation center for an extended period. If you’re like most people, you do not know a whole lot about your parent’s finances.

Imagine that your perfectly fine, aging-well parent has had a minor stroke and is no longer able to manage their financial or legal affairs. Your parent has been living independently, waiving off offers of help or even having someone come in to clean for years. It seemed as if it would go on that way forever. What happens, asks the Daily Times, when you are confronted with this scenario in the aptly-titled article “Senior Life: What a nightmare! Untangling a loved one’s finances”?

After the health crisis is over, it’s time to get busy. Open the door to the home and start looking. Where’s the will, where are the bank statements and where’s the information about Social Security benefits? When you start making calls or going online, you run into a bigger problem than figuring out where the papers are kept, no one will talk with you. You are not legally authorized, even though you are a direct descendant.

This happens all the time.

Statistically speaking, it is extremely likely that your parent will end up, at some point, in a nursing home or a rehabilitation center for an extended period of time. Most people have no idea what their parent’s financial situation is, where and how they keep their financial and legal records and what they would need to do in an emergency.

It’s not that difficult to fix, but you and your hopefully healthy parent or parents need to start by planning for the future. That means sitting down with an estate planning attorney and making sure to have some key documents, most importantly, a Power of Attorney.

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that gives you permission to act on another person’s behalf as their agent, if they are unable to do so. It must be properly prepared for your state’s laws.  It allows you to pay bills and make decisions on behalf of a loved one, while they are alive. Without it, you’ll need to go to court to be appointed as legal guardian. That takes time and is more expensive, than having a POA created and properly executed.

If you have downloaded a Power of Attorney and are hoping it works, be warned: chances are good it won’t. Many financial institutions insist that the only POA they will accept, are the ones that they issue.

Once you have a POA in place, assuming that your parent is able to sign it, then it’s time to get organized. You’ll need to go through all the important papers, setting up a system so you can see what bills need to be paid, how many bank accounts or investment accounts exist and review her financial status.

Next, it’s time to consolidate. If your parent was a child of the Depression, chances are they have money in many different places. This gave them a sense of security and gives you a headache. Consolidate four different checking accounts into one. The same should be done for any CDs, investment accounts and credit cards. Have her Social Security and any pension checks deposited into one account.

If you need help, and you might, don’t hesitate to ask for it. The stress of organizing decades of a loved one’s home, plus caring for them and managing the winding down of a home can be overwhelming. Your elder law attorney will be able to connect you with a number of resources in your area.

Reference: Daily Times (April 9, 2019) “Senior Life: What a nightmare! Untangling a loved one’s finances”

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