Best Way You Can Help with Financial Tasks

Best Way You Can Help with Financial Tasks

Solutions to figure out how you can help the older adult with finances include:

  • Understanding the older adult's financial situation
  • Figuring out how you can help
  • Getting and organizing information
  • Finding others who can help

Understanding the Older Adult's Financial Situation

Having a sense of the older adult's general financial situation can help you with financial tasks.

Explain why you want to know more about the older adult's finances. Ask what information the older adult feels comfortable sharing with you.

Some people are more comfortable talking about money than others are. Don't push the older adult to share details.

A full financial picture includes:

  • Property, such as home or land
  • Assets, such as vehicles, savings and investments
  • Income, such as pensions, retirement accounts or Social Security benefits
  • Government assistance, such as Medicare, Medicaid, veterans and other benefits
  • Insurance, such as health, home and long-term care insurance
  • Debt, such as mortgages, home equity loans, car loans or credit card bills
  • Current expenses, including housing, utilities, taxes, food, clothes, transportation, and personal, medical and care expenses
  • Available resources, such as transportation programs, support groups and community programs

Ask the older adult about each financial category and any trends. For example, are the older adult's expenses holding steady, decreasing or increasing?

Ask if the older adult is planning to make or expects major changes, like moving or needing paid help.

The federal website LongTermCare.Gov lists average costs under "Costs & How to Pay: Costs of Care." It also includes long-term care planning tips and links to average costs by state.

Tell the older adult how you will use any information. Keep any financial information that the older adult shares secure. For example, put documents in a locked cabinet and don't share sensitive information over email.

If learning about the older adult's finances gives you ideas about how you or others could help, suggest them to the older adult.

Figuring Out How You Can Help

Ask if the older adult wants help with financial tasks. This could be anything from driving the older adult to the bank to keeping track of bills to helping make financial decisions.

For each financial task, think about whether you can help the older adult. Ask yourself:

  • Is this something I can do and feel comfortable doing? For example, keeping track of bills might be easier if you live nearby, while dealing with health insurance might be easier if you're familiar with Medicare or Medicaid.
  • Is this one-time, occasional or frequent need? Do I have the time to help the older adult with this?
  • What information do I need to help the older adult with this? How can I get that information?
  • Is this a good fit for my skills? For example, some people like organizing documents. Others are good at looking up information online or asking professionals for advice.
  • Are there trusted people close to the older adult who have more experience, skills or contacts to help with this?
  • Are there agencies or community programs that could help the older adult or me with this?

Tell the older adult who you think might be able to help with different financial tasks. Say which tasks you would like to take on.

Getting and Organizing Information

Helping with financial tasks often involves finding and organizing information.

Legal documents define who can be involved in financial and healthcare decisions. Ask if the older adult has an up-to-date:

  • Will
  • Power of attorney for finances
  • Power of attorney for healthcare or advance directive
  • Living will or advance directive

Ask the older adult to either give you or another trusted person copies of these legal documents or to let you know how to access them in case of an emergency.

If you're helping the older adult with more involved financial tasks, you might need access to the older adult's accounts. Talk to the older adult and their financial institution, accountant or lawyer to find out what level of access makes sense. For example:

  • View-only access to the older adult's account statements would allow you to see income, expenses and available funds
  • View plus deposit access to the older adult's account would allow you to see statements and make deposits
  • Pre-paid or restricted debit cards linked to the older adult's account would allow you to purchase items for the older adult
  • Becoming an authorized signer would allow you to make limited withdrawals while the older adult controls the account
  • Becoming a representative payee would allow you to manage the older adult's government benefits, such as Social Security or veterans' benefits
  • Becoming the older adult's power of attorney would allow you to make financial transactions as the older adult's legal representatives of financial matters

To organize information, find a secure space to keep documents related to the older adult's finances. This can be a binder, notebook, file folder, drawer or computer folder.

Keep information about the older adult's finances and legal arrangements together, but separate from your personal records. This might include:

  • The names and contact information of lawyers and financial advisors who have worked with the older adult
  • Notes from financial discussions with the older adult and professionals
  • Copies of the older adult's legal documents
  • Receipts, notes and a list of dates and details of any financial transactions you've made for the older adult
  • Receipts or other records for any transactions you've made as the older adult's "attorney in fact" under a financial power of attorney of attorney authority

Secure all documents with sensitive information, like account details, Social Security numbers or credit and debit card numbers. Keep paper documents with sensitive information in a locked cabinet. Keep encrypted files of computer records. Once files with sensitive information are no longer needed, shred paper copies and securely trash computer files.

Finding Others Who Can Help

If the older adult would like help with financial tasks, discuss what each task does and does not include. Offer to write up short descriptions for each task. This allows potential helpers to understand what they're being asked to do.

Ask who the older adult trusts and feels comfortable asking to help. If tasks can be done by phone or computer, people don't have to live near the older adult to help.

Offer to contact potential helpers. Ask each person if they can help the older adult with a specific financial task. Share the task description. Discuss how much time the task will take, and if it's a one-time, occasional or ongoing need.

For those able to help, ask what information they need. Ask when they will do their tasks. Discuss who they can contact with questions and who they will tell when their tasks are done. If any tasks involve sensitive information, discuss how they will keep the information secure.

To keep the older adult's finances secure, encourage the older adult to only share the information needed to do each task. If the older adult decides to give others access to accounts, ask if limited access is an option. Ask if the older adult's financial institution can limit the size of withdrawals or send alerts about unusual account activity. Ask how often the older adult checks account balances, activity or statements.

Ask if the older adult has worked with or knows financial professionals in the area, like financial advisors, accountants, lawyers, brokers or appraisers. If not, ask if the older adult would like help finding professionals.

When looking for professional help:

  • Ask the older adult to describe the work they want the professional to do.
  • Ask relatives, friends and other professionals for recommendations.
  • Ask about and check the professional's credentials. Find out which government agency oversees professionals in their field. Check with the agency to make sure the professional's license or registration is current. Ask if there have been complaints against the professional.
  • Interview the professional, together with the older adult if possible. Ask about their experience overall and with work similar to what the older adult needs.
  • Ask the professional for a written proposed plan of work and cost estimate. Carefully review contracts before signing.

Before meeting with professionals, ask what the older adult's top questions are for them. Bring copies of any relevant financial or legal documents. Ask the professional to write down their recommendations. Discuss the professional's advice with the older adult and decide on next steps.