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On becoming your mother's parent

June 8th, 2014 at 05:38 am

When I first started blogging here over 5 years ago, my big thing was saving for retirement. Now, I can see a real shift in focus to taking care of my mother's personal finances. It's not a little thing.

I never really imagined I would be assuming control of my mother's personal finances, nor was I prepared for what it involved. It's certainly been a learning experience. Here are some of the nitty gritty details of my efforts to come to grips with it all.

My mom turned 80 this spring. I have noticed some serious memory problems and she has great difficulty understanding different bills (too many numbers) or even things like reading the instructions on her new cell phone. This has been a gradual decline. She's not ready for assisted living, but she definitely needs help in the areas of managing her finances and housework, for instance.

Last winter I took my mother to my own attorney, who happened to be an elder law specialist, and accomplished some very important things: I became my mother's power of attorney (POA), we got her a living will and we updated her regular will, which still contained her old married name. (I can imagine the probate delays that might have caused.)

More recently, my mother agreed to let me handle her bills after months of weekly phone calls telling me she couldn't make sense of this bill or that one. It was stressful for her, as, like me, she has always been extremely punctual and careful to pay her bills on-time, and it was stressful for me, because it was nearly impossible to troubleshoot things over the phone, and working f/t doesn't leave me much time to go over there.

So after getting the POA, the next thing I did, just 2 weeks ago, was to go to her bank with her to turn her checking account into a joint checking account, with my name on it. I doubt I'll need many physical checks, but I ordered some anyway, just to be sure.

I spent more time at my mother's yesterday calling different creditors of my mother's, waiting on hold to talk to a rep to get myself added as an authorized user to my mother's account. For her homeowners and car insurance, I had also faxed in my power of attorney paperwork earlier last week.

With each creditor I called, I spoke to them a while explaining that I wanted to begin paying my mother's bills and to have them either emailed (preferably) or snail mailed to me. Then I had to put my mother on the phone to give her permission. Then I got back on. It was a pain in the neck, but I did manage to get myself added as authorized user for:

1. Her Amex card (which automatically pays 3 of her bills)

2. Cable TV

3. Her homeowners and car insurance, through the same company

4. AARP Roadside Assistance (automatically renews and billed to her Discover card)

All the paperwork will be either mailed or emailed to me now so I have to be really careful these things get paid. It does feel strange since, not having children or even being married, I've never really been responsible for another person's finances before. It feels a little scary, to be honest.

So now I can access my mother's checking account online. At some point soon, I'm going to need to balance her checkbook. It hasn't been balanced in over a year, and that's a big source of concern to my mother (as it should be). However, I don't have the time or energy to try to find the error or errors in over 12 months of statements. I mentioned to her before that one way to determine the right number is to not write ANY checks for a full month, but she has too many bills that are automatically debited from her checking. So I don't want to mess with that.

The good news is that the roughly $2,000 difference is in her favor. I still think it may be helpful to not have her write any checks for a month, and then I can monitor her account online and see when any automatic debits go through. Once they do, I can then give her what is hopefully the correct account balance to use in her checking account register.

I may also call the bank guy who helped us put my name on her account, and ask him for his advice on how to reconcile her checkbook.

I have so many phone calls to make related to my mother, and some of them can't be made in the evening. I recently learned that I will have the first week of July off from work becus it's a mandatory furlough for all contract workers.

Note to self: This would be an excellent time to take care of issues like this.

My mother can't find her Discover card so i couldn't take care of that one yet. I also still have to transfer over her AT&T bill (internet and phone), CL&P and one other credit card.

My mother gets less than $1,000 a month from Social Security, yet I see from her Amex bill online that she spent over $100 on vitamins last month, plus $54 on a stupid emailed health newsletter which I'm pretty sure she's not even aware she was billed for. I will have to talk to her about that later. Much of the vitamins are probably a waste of money because she is very nutritionally aware and eats extremely well.

Sorting thru all this stuff is definitely a time suck. I am still going into her email on a daily basis (without her knowledge) and deleting junk email and unsubscribing to as much as I can.

The need for me to step in and get involved with all this has been building for the last year or two. If nothing else, I hope to reduce the number of stressed out phone calls she makes to me about her bills.

Most recently, she withdrew $100 cash from the bank and then lost it. Of course, I have to listen to the whole story and there's little I can do except ask if she looked thoroughly in the car, etc.

Then yesterday she called to tell me she "thinks" she found it. She found over $300 in a stash of cash in a certain place she'd put it to keep it safe. She's not sure if this is the money she lost from the bank or if this is money she stashed there earlier. I'm guessing it probably does include the money from the bank.

I didn't get as much accomplished at my mom's yesterday as I'd hoped, partly because my mother's central AC broke. (She said she was waiting for a call back from a neighbor whose friend does HVAC work, etc.) But it was 82 degrees in her condo becus the windows are hard to open (for her) and they were all closed. So I opened them all up to cool down the place a little; i don't know if she slept with them open or what. I also called her neighbor to see what was going on and he agreed to call his friend again, but I told my mother not to wait too long for him and that she might have to call someone else to fix the AC becus the weather will be getting very warm soon. She's on the 2nd floor of her condo building.

I took her shopping for a lightweight vacuum at Best Buy 2 Saturdays ago and we got one i thought would be great for her as it was cordless, lightweight and bagless, but she had trouble putting it back in the charging station so i wound up buying it from her yesterday for $95. I didn't especially need it but i will keep it as Best Buy has a strict 2-week limit on returns.

I already know my mother should really be hiring a housekeeper to do that kind of heavy cleaning. I have brought this up with her repeatedly, but unless i take charge of finding and hiring someone myself (and I would feel obligated to be present during the cleaning to make sure they didn't steal from my mother with all the little tsoskes laying around there), I know it's not going to happen.

Maybe I'll just plan on vacuuming next Saturday.

I've also begun surreptitiously grabbing small handfuls of old newsletters and magazines she picks up free from the health food store (dating back to 2011) to throw away. She has too many piles of paperwork all around the condo and i actually feel the piles in the bedroom constitute a safety hazard. She says she's going to read the stuff, but if she hasn't read things from 2011, i doubt she ever will. I may also start doing the same with the piles of books on her bookshelves, not enough that she would notice them missing, but i know she won't read the old encyclopedias and stuff like that. The more I do now, the less I'll have to do later. She has piles of old records but no record player, so I'd like to sell them and get a little money for her. That is something I'll have to talk her into.

I also grabbed one of those Chase Bank offers where they give you $125 if you open a checking account with them. Being on a fixed income, I know $125 is a lot of money to my mother, and I could see her opening an account with them just to get the money. Heck, that's the kind of thing I do with credit cards, but having another checking account would really complicate things just when I'm assuming control of everything, so yes, I grabbed that little Chase offer and tossed it. Call it tough love.

As you can see, attending to my mother (as much as one can 1 day a week) is becoming a job in itself.

At some point I may want to inform my mother's brokerage, where she has her mutual fund investments, of my power of attorney status. I don't think it's really necessary now as she makes only infrequent withdrawals from her accounts there, as far as I know, anyway. But it would be good for this to be taken care of now, because if or when my mother's health deteriorated to the point where I needed to move her to assisted living, that would be a whole new pile of paperwork and issues to deal with, and already having the rest of her finances under control would make it easier.

Lessons learned so far? Getting the power of attorney was the most important thing I could have done. A good friend of mine had been telling me repeatedly to get this done, and soon. It was a process. As with other things, my mother didn't agree to this immediately.

The POA really smooths the way and facilitates a great deal when you are dealing with creditors or anyone else.

The one thing I meditate on is finding more patience within myself to handle all this with grace and kindness. I am a very impatient person.

9 Responses to “On becoming your mother's parent”

  1. scfr Says:

    It will be enlightening to follow your posts on this topic as I may go through the same scenario in a couple years, with the added challenge of being half way across the country from my mom.

    I am already an authorized signer on my mom's checking account. One thing I worry about (only slightly, not enough to keep me awake at night) is that if my mom overdraws her bank account and piles up fees, I will be liable.

    Wishing you peace as you deal with this tough situation.

  2. PatientSaver Says:

    Scfr, that is a good point, one downside that I had read about....as a joint signer on the account, you would be liable if she overdrew the account. In my case, becus my mother tends to be very careful about paying bills, I don't think that's a high risk. I will be monitoring her checking account online now so I could spot it if the balance was suddenly low or in danger of being overdrawn.

  3. LuckyRobin Says:

    Do you have both financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney? I would check and make sure your paperwork covers both, since they can often be two separate things.

  4. snafu Says:

    In the summer with longer daylight hours, would it work to have a set, after work 'date' with mom for dinner financial review and paper clean-up on Wednesday's after work for example? Does your mom get regular, automatic monthly withdrawls from her brokerage as part of her retirement program? It must be difficult to find yourself in role reversal, looking after your mom's finances. What is the system to access assisted living in your area? Do you have wait lists?

    Our mom loved routines. Beds were stripped Friday's and laundry washed Mondays. House and car keys were on a carabiner key chain that clipped to the upper left lining in whatever handbag she was using. At home there was a fabric mail holder affixed to the wall with largish cup holders so that it also functioned as holder for all keys. She painted her keys with nail polish to tell at a glance which key opened what since they looked different depending where they were cut. When I saw those colourful key identifier tabs a few days ago I thought my mom would have loved those. Money was always put in the zippered compartment of her purse and zipped close before she left the bank.


  5. creditcardfree Says:

    Really wishing you the best in the years to come. I completely agree having been in customer service at a mutual fund company that a durable Power of Attorney was a key document for us in order process financial requests.

  6. rob62521 Says:

    You have my support...I have been there. Fortunately my mom was still "with it" up until the day she died, but the last couple of years of her life, she was in and out of the hospital so I helped with bill paying. May I offer another suggestion? Please be sure you have the right to talk to her doctor and her insurance company. My mom died and there was a bill and I had to send the will in as well as a death certificate to verify I had a "right" to talk to them about the bill. The insurance company said they didn't get it when I mailed it in and I faxed it in and got a return receipt that it had been received...I called and they claimed they didn't get that one either until I told them I knew they had. Fortunately the hospital was willing to work with me on the bill until I could get the insurance problem resolved. It was a major pain.

  7. FrugalTexan75 Says:

    {{hugs}} I don't look forward to the day I have to do something similar with my mom.

  8. Dido Says:

    Best wishes to you on this difficult front. It IS hard when the tables turn and we become the caregivers.

  9. Kiki Says:

    Opening the new checking account may help you with figuring out her balance issues and balancing her check book. Just something to consider.

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