Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2004 /6 Shevat, 5764
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins
Help Mom organize her finances
Q: My 80-year-old mother has been in declining health since my father died. I am her only child, but live halfway across the country. A neighbor who looks in on Mom says that she often ignores her mail and newspapers for days at a time. Mom recently called me in a panic, telling me that she can't pay her bills because she has no money. Since I helped probate Dad's estate several years ago, I know that he left Mom well off financially and that she has plenty of resources.
Mom appointed me as her power of attorney, agreeing that I should take over her finances. However, several days each week, I am out of town because of my job. I have been checking into other arrangements for paying her bills, but am striking out. If her bills are paid on time, she will be able to continue to live at home. I can't relocate closer to her, and she doesn't want to move into a facility. I am at my wit's end. What can I do?
A: With seniors living longer, more baby boomers in our mobile society find themselves in the position of helping out-of-town parents or elderly relatives manage their finances.
But in addition to being an emotional and time-consuming burden, there are fiduciary issues that must be addressed. Although you live far away from your mother and say you can't take on this responsibility now, we believe that you should take several days to visit your mother and get her financial train on the right track.
First, make out a budget based on your mother's current monthly expenses and determine how much money she has coming in each month. Make sure that your name is on all her financial accounts as an authorized signer.
While you are with her, we suggest that you become your mother's "representative payee" for the Social Security Administration, Veterans Administration and other sources of income, and have all monthly benefits directly deposited into the checking account. You should make similar arrangements with any IRA to make sure that required minimum distributions are also automatically deposited into the account.
Once you know her income and outgo each month, it might be a good idea to establish automatic withdrawals from her account each month for recurring expenses, including rent, utilities, telephone and insurance.
To ensure that the account is not overdrafted, you might ask that the bank add overdraft protection. A copy of the checking statement should be sent to you each month and can be available online. Since you will be handling her other investments and accounts, you can direct how much additional money should be deposited into her checking account each month above her income to cover her expenses.
If there is a trusted relative, friend or neighbor who could help with the details, you might want to get them involved. If you do, though, make sure not to give anyone access to any account other than the checking account so you can limit the potential for loss through corruption. Depending on your mother's ability to take care of some financial areas herself, you could apply for a joint debit or credit card to pay for expenses such as groceries, prescription drugs and clothing. Remember, though, that debit cards, improperly used, can devastate a checking account.
The American Association of Daily Money Managers (www.aadmm.com), a Maryland-based trade group, asserts that daily money managers (DMMs) provide personal business assistance to clients often seniors who have difficulty managing their personal finances. These "managers" are said to organize and keep track of financial and medical insurance papers, pay bills, assist with check-writing, and maintain bank accounts. But this is a completely unregulated industry, and a review of the membership application produces very little information that would encourage us to entrust a senior's funds to DMMs (who charge between $25 to $65, depending on geographic location) without background checks, insurance, references and a bond. While some local governments and organizations provide reduced fee or complimentary services to low-income clients (the AARP is one such provider, which can be reached via the Web at www.aarpmmp.org), your mother does not appear to fit into this category.
We believe that you should make the time to handle the financial issues yourself. You might use you local Home Instead personnel to help with grocery shopping, etc. (www.homeinstead.com). Sometimes we must make sacrifices to assure the well being of our parents, and we think it's time that you step up to the plate. If you can't, we suggest that you consider placing your mother in a suitable facility or asking the trust company of a small bank to handle this for you.
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JAN L. WARNER received his A.B. and J.D. degrees from the University of South Carolina and earned a Master of Legal Letters (L.L.M.) in Taxation from the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a frequent lecturer at legal education and public information programs throughout the United States. His articles have been published in national and state legal publications. Jan Collins began co-authoring Flying SoloŽ in 1989. She has more than 27 years of experience as a journalist, writer, and editor. To comment or ask a question, please click here.
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© 2003, Jan Warner