Organizing an Elderly Parent’s Paperwork

Published Monday, March 04, 2013 7:47 PM

What would happen if you unexpectedly needed to take over your aging parents' finances? With people living longer, adult children are increasingly tasked with caring for aging parents. Are you prepared? If the answer is no, do yourself a favor and get a handle on the paperwork before an emergency strikes. This round-up of advice will help you, and your aging parents, navigate the paper trail.

The Talk: The first step in providing assistance is to get all parties to agree that help is needed. Open, compassionate communication is essential. Speak candidly, but kindly, to your parent about why you want to get involved in managing their finances or paperwork either now or down the road. Listen actively and carefully to their concerns so you can better assuage any fears. Make clear that you want to work with them as partners. For more tips on discussing sensitive issues, read the advice in How to Talk with Elderly Parents about Tough Family Issues.

Must-Know Facts: Money talk is often considered an impolite subject but in order to help your parents, candor is required. Plan for a time when you aren't hurried or distracted to have a frank and thorough conversation about your parents' finances. For starters, where do your parents keep their financial records? Are they working with a financial planner? Do they have a durable power of attorney to manage their finances should they become incapacitated? Ask for a thorough inventory, or create one of your own, that identifies crucial financial accounts, insurance and passwords or keys to access online documents or safety deposit boxes. For more ideas of what you need to know to be helpful, read 10 Things You Should Know About Your Parents' Finances. 

Tax Man: Tax season means paperwork. Help your parents greet the tax man with the advice in Your Aging Parents and Tax Season: A Getting-Started Guide. The article has useful advice on determining whether or not your parents even need to file (many seniors have income that falls below the IRS threshold) and tips on how to claim your parent as a dependent.

Bill Paying: Keeping up with monthly bills is a big job. Let your parents know you can help pitch in or take over the job entirely. Get started by assessing their annual income and monthly expenses. Then, you can help your parent write the checks, or if you have power of attorney, pay the bills directly from their accounts.  Keep in mind that unless your parent is totally incapacitated, that it's still their money and they should choose how and when to spend it. But keep an eye on credit card statements and the bottom line; the elderly are often scammed by telemarketers or are taken advantage of by friends, family or caregivers.

Helpful Tools: Taking on your parents' finances and paperwork in addition to your own can seem daunting. We've rounded up some useful tools to keep all the trains running on time. For the caregiver who prefers old-fashioned papers to digital, The Senior Organizer is a handy workbook designed to assist in gathering crucial personal, medical, legal and financial information. For smartphone-savvy app lovers, elder-care website has a useful article on apps to help with all your elder care needs: 12 Handy Apps for Caregivers. 



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