How can we get our mother to open up about her hidden finances?

2 answers | Last updated: May 17, 2009
Beethoven asked...

My Mother is 61 years old and has heart disease and diabetes. She is living on a fixed income, and recently sold her home, and bought a small house with a bond for deed (owner financed) mortgage. She complains of "being broke" on a daily basis. She is resistant to sharing her financial information with my sister and me. My sister and I give her money here and there, and my sister pays her to babysit, but we have no idea what the actual financial picture is. There are lots of little mysteries about her finances - someone's cell phone in her name, a car payment that she is responsible for, with a friend "giving her the money." There are people in her life whom I think are taking advantage of her. She gets angry when we try to talk to her about her finances - she keeps telling us that we should be doing more for her. However, a few months ago when I gave her a check for $1200 toward her bills, she immediately bought a computer and printer, and a week later was crying that she couldn't pay her electric bill. She was not poor when my father was alive, but they apparently did not do financial planning. It is stressful for her, as well as the entire family. Both my sister and I are starting out, recently married, trying to get on our feet. My sister and I want to pull together and work things out as a family with her. Should we contact a financial planner, and try to get her to sit down with all of us to analyze the situation, make a budget, etc. I feel like if I knew how much she was short every month, I could budget an amount of money to help out. But I want to make sure that she is paying the things that need to be paid. As it is, when I send her money, she treats it as a "gift" and uses it for luxuries that she can't otherwise afford. How would you suggest we approach her without putting her on the defensive? I have mentioned seeing a planner in the past, but her response is "I don't have anything, what's the point?" Thanks for any advice.

Expert Answers

Mary Koffend is the president of Accountable Aging Care Management (AACM), an eldercare consulting and care management firm that works with elder clients and their families to find the best care providers and services to meet their needs.

Discussing finances with a senior is often difficult. Most people associate their independence with their ability to handle their own funds. It sounds like you have tried several approaches which were good ideas, but your mom has been resistant.

There is great value in using an independent third party to assist with this conversation.

  • Is there someone whose financial expertise your mom values?
  • Is there a family friend that has some similar circumstances to your mom?
  • Is there a minister or other professional that would assist you?

If there is, engage that person to assist you. If there is not a person that you know to aid with this, arrange to meet with a financial planner or possibly a geriatric care manager.

You want to set up an environment that as you stated would not automatically put your mom on the defensive. You want to make the meeting generic enough that it does not appear to be about her finances, her inability to handle her affairs, or your frustration with her actions. For example, use an excuse like a seminar you attended about finances or a conversation that you had to set the reason for the meeting. You may also want use the meeting as an opportunity to model the behavior you want from her, You could complete a spending plan or inventory of income and expenses for your self and for her. There are many forms available free on the Internet. Search “budget forms” and review the options that meet your needs.

To prepare, schedule a planning meeting with your third party contact without your mom. Discuss the issues you have so that the stories about your mom’s spending patterns that concern you can be woven into the conversation in the actual meeting with your mom. Work out a strategy, fact finding process, and goals for the meeting. This process may take several meetings. Come away with an action plan to which you can all agree.

If you use a financial planner or geriatric care manager, discuss the costs of the sessions. If this is too expensive, then look for the family friend, advisor, or an eldercare non-profit agency in your area to aid with this process.

There also appear to be other issues for your mom underlying in your question. After these sessions, you will have a better idea if your mom is being abused by others. If others are taking advantage of your mom, you will have to look at more stringent actions. Your mom may need to feel important to others and giving her money to others is a way of feeling significant. This situation may not solely be one of handling finances and you should be prepared to look at the social issues involved…another reason to have the independent perspective of a third party.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

Your mom is still pretty young so it seems as if you and your sister could sit down with your mom and just be strait with her about her finances and your concerns regarding them.  This may be a more honest and more loving approach rather than setting up a meeting.

As said, your mom is still quite young and she could construe a "backdoor approach" as untrustworthy on your and your sister's part.  If you want to bring in a financial advisor or a friend or any third party, be upfront with her about why you want to do that and let her call the shots.