Any suggestions for talking to my father, who has Alzheimer's, about his finances?

7 answers | Last updated: Dec 08, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...
I'd like to have a discussion about my parents' assets before my 79-year-old dad, who's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, worsens. I'm already noticing that he has trouble paying bills, and I'm beginning to worry about long-term care, and I don't really know what his income and assets are.

Expert Answers

Andrea Seewald is a licensed social worker and president of Senior Care Consultants and the Care Registry in Pittsburgh.

Parents often fear that enlisting a family member to help with finances means starting down a slippery slope to losing autonomy. Reassure your dad that it doesn't have to be that way. Tell him, "I want you to remain independent for as long as possible. My goal is to help you stay where you are and be in control but to have some support. I want to be that support or make sure that you have some. It's just the same as how I rely on my spouse or partner to assist me with financial decisions."

It's important to recognize that admitting to needing help will be hard for your father. Stress his dignity and independence. Even though your dad has a diagnosis of dementia, focus on what he still has rather than what he's lost. Emphasize that given his diagnosis, you both need to plan for the future and prepare for when he does need practical help.

If your dad understands the concept of a power of attorney, assigning one is a good idea. Next, draw up a list of his assets, including account numbers. Reassure him: "I'm not going to be touching your assets, but if something happened to you and I needed to, I would need to know where they are." It may also be a good idea to have your father put your name on a checking account so that if he has to go to the hospital, bills will still get paid. These are all useful steps to take even if your other parent is still well.

If you can't make a good case with your dad, it may be because some parents just have a hard time listening to their children about these matters. Enlisting a third party can be helpful. Sitting down with an impartial professional such as a financial planner, an attorney, or a geriatric care manager may reduce a parent's resistance to addressing matters of money.

Community Answers

Deirdre answered...

Hi I approached it from the angle of "if you let me have power of attorney we'll be able to pay for your medical/all bills should you have an accident and be temporarily indisposed".

The other thing I did first was to get shared signing authority on my dad's bank accounts. Once he realised I wasn't taking the money he was more approachable about the POA.

My dad has subsequently forgotten how to sign. This is problematic for processing documents so you're sensible to pursue the POA route. Please don't delay the discussion because of sensitivities.

Good luck.


Phishomi answered...

I would strongly consider having as many bills as possible paid electronically monthly. Also have father agree to create computer access to your Father's bank account with your e-mail address, so you can monitor account and "bill pay" bills electronically. My Mom was thankful we did this, and she still gets monthly bank statements so she can watch what is going on.

Late fees and unpaid bills now are non-existent.

Deirdre answered...

Excellent advice. I've also done this and it works fabulously.

Labe answered...

As a long retired attorney and now a caregiver for my Alzheimers afflicted wife, I can strongly add my voice to the already well presented answers. 1. DO GET A DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY for your loved one before he or she becomes mentally incapacitated.Have a TRUSTED member of the family to be appointed. I have seen too often that a family member who has been appointed becomes upset with the assets of their parents going toward necessities and becoming obsessed that nothing will be left for them to inherit. 2.Have all investment income be directly deposited into a bank account. This assures income is accounted for as well as keeping accurate records of income for tax and other purposes. 3 Try to set up a family trust and place all assets into the trust,including real estate, stocks,bonds,bank accounts,etc.No need to spend large amounts of money for a simple trust. Check first to see if your State also allows the bypassing of probate by using a trust.In some states a family trust has little or no reason to be set up. 4. If there are any contracts,such as insurance,health care,etc., contact the companies to give them the names, adresses, telephone #'s of other persons to be given notice of premium noticesdue so the policies do not lapse. I had a neighbor's daughter learn that a long term health ins. policy lapsed after due notice was sent to her father, who, himself was caring for his incapacitated wife, when he became overwhelmed with caring for her and started to ignore or forget to respond to premium payment notices. 5. To avoid misunderstandings with siblings, get all involved and preferably get another sibling as a joint signer.

Meiho answered...

I am in the process of finalizing my father's estate after his death in February, so all of these things are on my mind daily. All of the advice so far is good. One thing I could add--when my dad said he was afraid of giving up control, I created a "job description" for him and for me. I told him that he was a "corporation CEO" and that I was the "VP for finance." We would work as a team. I laid out his responsibilities (make sure he forwarded all the bills to me, etc.) and my responsibilities (monitor the accounts to make sure everything was accurate, etc.) He had been ripped off by a "lady friend" before I took over, plus he was involved in scams, so it was crucial for me to prevent further bleeding of his account. We sat down with his banker and made him a part of the team as well. My father was trustee of his trust, and I learned from an attorney that he could resign as trustee and appoint me instead. We did that just before my father's diagnosis of Alz, thus avoiding any future need to get a conservatorship. It was very easy and I was able to fulfill my obligations as his daughter, keep him out of financial trouble, and make sure that his final days were spent being well cared for, without financial difficulties. My best advice is to do these things NOW, before they get problematic. There are online sources of checklists, forms to guide discussions, etc. which are very useful. Best of luck to you and your family.

Djopgenort answered...

Repeating the above info-- sooner rather than later! I did NOT push an older friend into doing a DBA, & I regret it. He has no family & I am his closest friend. I live out of town, but have been calling daily for years, & had been visiting monthly, and had been helping with taxes, bills, etc. for 2 years before diagnosis. He was unwilling to discuss finances (excuses ranged from not wanting to give up control to "I was taught it's not polite to talk about money"). Anyhow, we waited too long & now he's ended up with a conservator, at a cost of $12,000/year (PLUS lawyers fees of $5k+) rather than a DPA. He was never in any danger of being exploited, but his unwillingness to discuss money meant that he ultimately has LESS control. The conservator doesn't understand him as well, & has tried to "fix" things that didn't need fixing-- ie not realizing that my friend LIKES to go grocery shopping, and has a happy routine with shopping/mail box/coffee shop & instead kept trying to have his paid people do the shopping (which they bungled hopelessly). The only good thing is that when my friend wants to complain about anything I can tell him to just take it up with the conservator. The conservator did get rid of a problematic caregiver very promptly, & got him signed up for home health care.