Adult Children 101: Navigating Life And Finances With Aging Parents

Mutual Funds

You probably don’t know this, but May is Older Americans Month (and has been since 1963). This year’s theme is Make Your Mark – celebrating contributions older Americans make to communities—as volunteers, parents, grandparents, and more.

But as many Americans get older “not being a burden” would likely be part of their ideal Mark.

So here are a few things that adult children can do to help parents and grandparents keep their lives and financial future intact.

Ask the questions: first, you have to be willing to have more than one potentially awkward conversation.  “Hey, Mom/Dad, where do you keep important documents?” is never going to be anyone’s favorite ask, but it’s crucial to know the answer. Being able to retrieve health-care directives, the will, a deed or mortgage document, car title, life insurance policy, social security statements, and savings/investment accounts info means you’ll be able to help them deal with finances and medical situations the way they would want.   

What’s generally not understood is that one of the most important aspects of an aging plan is knowing where to find help when an unexpected or even a worst-case scenario happens, and how to deal with real-life consequences. Do your parents know? The answer for many situations is to contact the Administration for Community Living’s Eldercare Index for services to help solve issues ranging from medical transportation to caregiving that are located in your parents’ zip code. The ACL is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. More help can be found through their local Network of Area Agencies on Aging. Next, ask if there is a financial plan or an Advisor/Counselor? If not promote the idea of why they may need one or both to help protect them and to make sure they keep their money for themselves.  

Every year, according to Adult Protective Services, senior citizens hand over billions of dollars to scammers yet the numbers of reported cases to authorities are about one out of 44 cases.

Even an ace 75-year-old former stockbroker can get caught up in a phony call from someone posing as a favorite grandson’s “friend,” scaring granddad to wire bail money for his grandson’s release for driving under the influence.

If lucky, Western Union or Granddad’s bank or financial advisor might prevent the transaction.

But why are we relying on luck? Keep your parents in the know about common crimes and scams. Every month the FBI releases a list of top crimes, which now includes the latest pandemic government scams. Last week, bipartisan legislation, The Protecting Seniors from Emergency Scams Act, was introduced to help seniors and caregivers become informed during the pandemic and to provide contacts for law enforcement and adult protective services.

You can also put up a warning sign next to the phone about government fraudsters and let parents know they can call you and you can help them file a complaint directly: Contact the Justice Department Consumer Fraud for helpful resources and assistance with reporting. Reducing financial exploitation over the long-term will reduce demands on Medicare, Medicaid and other publicly-funded programs – almost one in ten financial abuse victims turn to Medicaid as a direct result of their savings being stolen.

Getting up to speed on the kind of financial plan your parents need is especially important if they are not financially sophisticated and managing without professional help. Ideally, they’ll be able to cover basic expenses with savings and an age-related annual income stream—such as Social Security benefits, pensions, life insurance, annuities and investment dividends. Sometimes people lose track of benefits along the way or never knew they were eligible if their old company went out of business. Make sure they don’t miss out by checking through the government’s ‘finding a lost pension’ database, and search missing participants.

If they own their home, that equity counts as part of their savings; they could always consider a reverse mortgage to raise funds (though beware – there are many issues to consider as well as the possibility of scams). Check out the National Council on Aging for helpful information.

Finally, make sure everyone in the extended family understands that your parents -especially if one of them lives alone — cannot afford to part with chunks of money.

So, help your parents, work with your siblings, and you’ll Make Your Mark as a person and as a helpful family member. Also—and honestly, you deserve this—you’ll be setting a good example for your own kids of how to be there for your parents.

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