What No One Tells You About Managing Your Aging Parents' Finances

My Early Retirement Journey - caring for aging parents So I'm feeling pretty good. My mind is a buzz, and I got a lot done at work today (Wed, 30May2018). It was a busy day but I still managed to get some personal stuff done as well during downtime and breaks. Namely, I was able to tackle some errands for my aunt. If you're just joining us, she was staying with me for awhile and is slowly losing her mind. I've taken over managing her finances and what was overwhelming 3 weeks ago has been chopped down to bite-sized tasks that I've slowly tackled. Today was another mammoth task-ticking day and I thought I'd celebrate this mini-milestone with My Journey readers...all 3 of you 👀! In fact almost every day in the the last week or so has generated some new idea for a blog post. So before I draft them all into incomplete draft obscurity,  here's a quick listicle of what I learned just today from managing my aging aunt's finances!


What no one tells you about managing your aging parents' finances
  • They will be auto-enrolled by someone in lots of things for which they no longer remember the email address or password.
  • You will spend lots of time getting to know customer service agents via phone no less... during your work day (for those of us not FIRE'd).
  • They will likely have been swindled by some automatic withdrawals for fees or services they don't utilize or of which the are unaware.
  • There will be late fees.
  • They will have overpaid for something or many things.
  • They will have purchased something for which they have no need (e.g. loss of income insurance, international calls, and unlimited texting).
  • The medical bills are plentiful and outrageous. Donut hole...what that? Medicare Part what now
  • You will have to navigate life as caretaker and child (care-receiver). 
  • It is difficult establishing your independence while they assert theirs.
  • They have two to six cell phones for some reason. None of which they know how to adequately use.
  • They bought DVDs for you to watch the next time you come visit and for you to take home with you. You don't have a  DVD player. 
  • They're happy to see everyone... all the time. It's as though they can feel their life slipping away from them even if little else registers.
  • So many unanswered questions that will remain that way.  
    • Why are you using $150 worth of electricity/month for just you? In your country, you used to fetch kerosene.
    • You're really paying $100 for just cable? For what again?
    • Why do you need so much car insurance?
  •  They've forgotten how to bargain shop or can't be bothered. Why do you have chips that cost $7? Where did you even get those?
    • This is a woman who used to split an extra value meal among 3 kids instead of getting each a Happy Meal. #thrifty 
    • We used to get Blizzards only when they were free at Dairy Queen when the temperature was below zero.
  • Some companies (no affiliates) are really helpful when you share your experience and even when you don't.
    • Amazon Prime refunded monthly charges for 7 months where my oldie had signed up and not used the service.
    • Credit One removed late charges when asked. 
    • Bank of America credit card (worst bank based on previous experiences) refunds security deposits. Apparently if your credit is bad enough, they require a security deposit.
    •  Bank of America in branch customer service was helpful when trying to re-establish online access.
    •  Spectrum (internet/cable provider) stops charging late fees on balances after the internet/cable account is deactivated for non-payment. 
    • Meals on Wheels didn't charge late fees for a past due balance.
  • Some companies are not really helpful. 
    • SANTANDER is the worst. The literal worst. They will break usury laws and get away with it because they don't offer car loans...they offer "retail installment contracts."
    • Said installment contract for my oldie's car has now tallied up 30% of simple interest and counting. The limit for her state is 18%.
  • After you stop being annoyed with all the additional responsibilities of caring for your favorite oldie, you'll learn to enjoy their company once again. Cheers! 
Comment below and share your story. How have your parents changed as they've gotten older? Did they get more lax or less bothered about anything? What about between siblings?

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Comments

  1. I hear that. I was my father's conservator for nearly seven years as he dealt with Alzheimer's.

    The irony is that many of the tasks are one-time chores, but then there are so many things that you "just have to do once". You're probably already seeing that the more you can get done online, the easier it is for both of you. After a few months of dealing with customer service reps, the more I could do online (and the less they knew who was doing it) the happier everyone was.

    Let me know if I can help with questions.

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    1. I'm sorry to hear about your father. Did he end up staying with you or did you find a care home? Thank you for sharing your story. Yes, the more I can do online the better. What do you do when it stops being fun for them? She gets visibly frustrated that she can't remember things and just gives up.

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    2. Dad lived alone and initially refused all offers of help, but as soon as he could no longer handle living independently then he moved to a care facility near my brother. He was a stubborn hermit in his apartment for over two years after his diagnosis, but eventually he couldn’t keep up with meals, chores, or his finances. He was thrilled to learn that the care facility took care of his cooking & laundry and he quickly embraced that lifestyle. My brother visited several times a week while I took care of Dad’s finances from Hawaii. He was already managing some of his finances online, and when I was appointed his conservator then I finished getting everything online.

      The early stages of dementia are the worst because they know they’re forgetting. Dad (a retired engineer) used a lot of reminders around his apartment for what he called his “slipping memory”, and he had a wall calendar in the kitchen for his To-Do list. Everything in the fridge was neatly packaged in single-serving sizes with labels & dates, and he even put Post-Its on the kitchen cabinets.

      When he moved into the care facility we decorated his room with his wall calendar, more reminders about the daily routine, and big portrait-style family photos. He made up a whole story about living there as part of a consulting contract on their engineering needs. Initially he socialized with everyone and enjoyed exploring the grounds, yet he still worried about forgetting to pay his bills. He was always tremendously relieved when we told him that he’d left us a good turnover (sort of) and that we were taking care of everything. We kept reassuring him (every 15 minutes) that we were handling things for him, and you could see the endorphins spreading across his facial expressions.

      As he moved into mid-stage Alzheimer’s he no longer woke up disoriented or frightened. He stopped noticing his declining cognition, stopped worrying about chores, and started living in the moment. They say that Alzheimer’s makes you more of what you already are, and he seemed happier than any other time in his entire life.

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    3. They say that Alzheimer’s makes you more of what you already are << I'll look forward to that I supposed. Again, thank you so much for sharing so openly. My heart just breaks for my aunt. She has a PhD and can't string 3 sentences together without missing vocabulary words. We haven't gotten a diagnosis yet because she has only recently agreed to go to the doctor. Some days symptoms seem sudden, some days they seem like there has been a bit of decline for months. I can't tell! For me it's really difficult to gauge what she can do or will be able to do...in order to plan... I guess no one can...

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    4. You might already have found Bob DeMarco's "Alzheimer's Reading Room", and it was a big help during my Dad's early-stage dementia. The doctors had to rule out vitamin B-12 deficiency, urinary tract infections, strokes/blood clots, vascular dementia, medication interactions or side effects, and a number of other medical causes before deciding that his symptoms were probably Alzheimer's.

      At that point a neuropsychologist did a two-hour cognition interview with Dad to confirm the "diagnosis by negation" of Alzheimer's. That was important for prescribing medications which (in 2011) were thought to slow the rate of cognitive decline.

      Bob also has a lot of great techniques for talking with Alzheimer's family and for getting their cooperation (even without comprehension). The techniques worked very well with my Dad... or rather, they worked on us so that we could communicate with Dad. Instead of feeling confused or disgruntled, he'd smile and relax-- and you could practically see the endorphins spreading through his body.

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    5. Some good tips, I'll have to check it out. Yeah, Tuppeny had mentioned UTI...which I totally forgot does affect the elderly different. Took her to urgent care and it was negative for infection. I even did a mini cognition test of my own from some questions I found online. She was not oriented to month or year. So they did prescribe something for you Dad? If so, could you see a difference? Even after diagnosis which has yet to occur, I'm still not sure where she should go. Sigh. Right now when she tries to ask me to do things I just kind of say yes and ok even when I'm not quite sure what she's asking.

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    6. Dad was prescribed memantine (Namenda) and donepezil (Aricept). There was no reversal of his symptoms, and we couldn’t tell whether it slowed the rate of cognitive decline. I don’t think there’s a truly effective medication to reduce the impact of dementia, but you’re going to try everything which seems to have a chance.

      Bob DeMarco’s Alzheimer’s Reading Room has a very useful post on “10 Tips for Communicating with an Alzheimer's and Dementia Patients”... and he’s figured out solutions for just about every other problem any caregiver has ever encountered. It's a lifesaver of a resource.

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    7. My morbid question is...was there a time/symptom/event/experience when you knew that your dad was near the end of his life...like within a month?

      Our care choices at the moment seem to be: she trying to live on her own; circulating through different relatives; or move in with me...in my studio. Oy. She doesn't take her medicines as is, doubt she'd try something new. I really wouldn't want her too anyway. Her kidneys are near death.

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    8. I just scoured the site. It took me about 11 minutes to find the Top 10 list you mentioned. I'm finding it a little difficult to navigate.... any tips?

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    9. wait a minute... Medicaid covers assisted care living/ nursing home?! Wha?! This just changed the game! Options....

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    10. I completely understand the morbid questions. Alzheimer’s is very stressful on the caregiver, and everyone has those thoughts.

      It’s different for every elder. Some will linger in late-stage Alzheimer’s and hospice for months. In my father’s case, a few months after he reached the late stage, the disease started killing the neurons that controlled his balance and his blood pressure. He started last November with his usual mobility and good vital signs, but by Wednesday 15 Nov he was unexpectedly shambling and stumbling. (We got the phone calls and were kept completely in the loop on the discussions & decisions.) The staff began using a wheelchair, and then the caregivers noticed that his blood pressure was unusually low. By Friday the doctor recommended a bedside nurse 24/7 along with hospice. We settled in for a long haul because Dad’s body was stronger than his mind, and he’d come back from much worse. We expected that hospice would turn out to be a false alarm and that the doctors would only need to adjust some medication. Dad was restless that evening but did fine at controlling the pain with a little morphine. We were surprised when he died suddenly yet peacefully on Saturday morning.

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    11. Bob has thousands of posts on that site. The best way to absorb all of that information is to subscribe to either his e-mail list or in your RSS feed. That way you get several short posts per week with helpful tips instead of an overwhelming dose of information.

      I’m going to include a couple of links in my next comment, and WordPress might flag them as spam.

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    12. These sites have a good summary of the stages of Alzheimer's, although most caregivers simple use "early/middle/late" vocabulary.

      http://www.alzinfo.org/understand-alzheimers/clinical-stages-of-alzheimers/
      https://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_stages_of_alzheimers.asp

      It's very difficult to put a timeline on these stages because the disease progresses differently in everyone, but most elders survive for 3-5 years after the early stage is diagnosed. Many survive longer, and the bell curve goes out to 20 years.

      Yes, Medicaid will cover assisted living, but every state is different and not every care facility accepts Medicaid patients.

      For this situation I strongly recommend hiring a local geriatric care manager, both for help figuring out her arrangements (Care facility? Caregiver help at her home? Family?) and for filing a Medicaid application. Their experience and advice is well worth a few hundred dollars.

      It's quite possible that a care facility would accept a private-pay patient, with the understanding that later they'd need to convert to Medicaid.

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    13. Golden! Thank you very much, you've provided pretty much everything I wanted to know to begin this journey. I really appreciate your time and thoughtfulness!!

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  2. We are just starting down this road with MIL. I already do all her online stuff when she wants. E.g. today I reapplied for her driving licence (every 3 years now) and 4 weeks ago it was applying for a partial refund of Power of Attorney fees that the government had overcharged.

    She is still very independent so I don't do much, more a case of being on hand to help when asked. She does very little online, preferring branch based savings accounts. Not great interest rates but at least fairly safe and the branch staff don't try and sell her exotic investments funds!

    Power of attorney already in place for if and when we need to take a more leading role.

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    1. I have POA too. Glad she took care of that when she had the mind to do it. Good for you for stepping in for your MIL. Yeah it feels like online access is a bit ageist. So many log-ins! Surprisingly most people I've encountered when out with my aunt have been kind, but not all.

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