Home > Taking over my mother's bills...someday you may have to do this too

Taking over my mother's bills...someday you may have to do this too

May 25th, 2014 at 10:59 am

I am making tiny progress in my attempt to take over managing my mother's finances.

My mother is 80, and she is having a great deal of problems making sense of her bills and keeping on top of them. She has been basically driving me crazy with frequent phone calls asking me to troubleshoot individual issues, and of course without having the bill in front of me to look at, it's practically impossible to figure out what is wrong.

I have offered several times to manage ALL her bills if she would put my name on her checking account, making it a joint checking account. She was very reluctant to do that, but yet she kept calling me for help in figuring things out.

Finally, last week, she agreed to let me do it because it's just beyond her and it causes her a great deal of stress. She always complains about her "paperwork" and "catching up."

So we agreed I would go over there this weekend to set things up. I created a simple spreadsheet with all her individual bills and months left in this year, to show her how I'd fill in the amount of each expense. Once we went the bank to turn her account into a joint account, and got myself a set of checks with both our names, I would then contact each utility company, her car and homeowner's insurance providers, etc. etc. to ask them to start sending her bills to my address. I would also create online accounts to pay everything that way, and an online account to monitor her checking account as I would need to know when her Social Security deposits were made, and in what amount, so I can make sure to balance her checkbook, which has been another extremely trying thing for my mother.

I was over there yesterday and it was as if we never had the earlier conversation. (I suspect my mother has dementia.) There was another protracted conversation about it. The frustration nearly drove me to tears. She trusts me to manage her bills, but what was keeping her from agreeing is embarrassment that people that "know her" at the bank or elsewhere would think she has dementia (a word I have never used with her in conversation). She also did not want me to pay her common charges for the same reason and felt that people would look at her funny if they knew her daughter was paying her bills.

I finally got her to agree to my plan but by the time we got to that point, it was noon. I called the bank, which was about to close, and asked what was required to turn my mother's account into a joint checking account. She said you just need to come with your mother to sign the signature card, and bring your power of attorney paperwork with you. So, because I don't want to lose pay by taking time off from work, we'll have to wait til next Saturday morning to do that.

Once that is done (and I sure hope my mother will remember why we're there next week) then I can start the other part of the process, contacting billing companies to mail me the bills, and setting up the online accounts.

There are 2 bills I'm concerned about that I actually left for her to handle because they are current bills and I knew I wouldn't be able to start paying her bills for probably a few weeks.

One is her electric bill, where she owes as I recall around $1,000. The problem i think is that she's on a budget plan where they bill you a fixed (same) amount every month, but it obscures the true cost of the electricity you're using. We had a very cold winter here and my mother had her electric heat up to her usual 72 or so degrees, not realizing how much she was running up.

The other big bills include 3 bills from private ambulance companies from when she called 911 to go to the hospital. She's done this multiple times before because she has atrial fibrillation and she panics when her heart starts fluttering. For some reason, now she's getting these big bills, and I'm worrying that I should have taken down info on them so I could call to inquire about them on her behalf, but i honestly was feeling so overwhelmed and emotionally drained from just having to convince my mother I need to step in, etc., that I instructed her to just pay the current bills.

She said they had greatly reduced the amount owed of one of those ambulance bills and i think she is expected that to happen with the others, although she hasn't spoken to them and doesn't know why she's gotten these bills. I may have to intervene. I have such limited time.

And of course there's her checking account, where her balance differs from the bank's by about $2,000, she said, although the difference is in her favor. Still, it should be balanced, and I'm looking at her checkbook and seeing a zillion different notations and notes of her. It could be impossible to "balance" and maybe not worth the aggravation. But if I decide to just go with the balance the bank says it has, then she's going to want an explanation as to WHY or where did she make a mistake or whatever.

I did 2 other things while I was at my mother's: I started helping sort through her "paperwork," which includes several large piles on the floor around her desk. In the past when I've tried to throw things out,she protests and says she wants to read that but hasn't had the time. Well, half this "paperwork" was junk mail or articles on nutrition or other matters she has an interest in. I threw a lot of it away, knowing that she likely will never get around to reading it.

The other thing I did, and you may disapprove of my tactics, is I saw my mother's password written down on a sticky on her monitor, and I wrote it down.

When I got home, I was able to log in and delete over a hundred junky emails in her inbox. These emails tend to paralyze her. Many of them were spam emails that resulted after she went online and clicked on a political ad. She's an Obama supporter, and so she gets dozen's of these emails every week asking for money to support the campaign.

I had to laugh because when she got these personalized emails from the President or Michelle Obama, she really believed they were coming from them personally, and she wrote them rather lengthy letters as if they were really being read by someone, explaining that she was a self-employed artist and couldn't afford more than a $5 donation.

I unsubscribed her from as many of these as I could. I hope I did not overdo it, but I do feel that minimizing her junk mail and clearing through some of the piles at her desk will help lower her level of stress and anxiety.

My level of stress and anxiety is another matter. I had all sorts of errands planned for after I left my mother's, but I felt so drained, i really had to push myself to do a few of them. Eventually, I hope that managing my mother's bills will be more or less routine, but right now, it's been like pulling teeth even to get this far, and really, I have yet to set anything up.

I do have an older sister but she doesn't want to be "involved" with dealing with my mother so it basically falls into my lap. My sister's way of dealing with my mother is to avoid contact as much as possible.

I recently purchased a book on Amazon written by a longtime cartoonist for the New Yorker. The book is filled with cartoons that delve into the author's own experiences caring for her aging parents before they died. One of them had Alzheimer's. As a cartoonist, she was able to to inject some humor into all these trying situations, and I really got some chuckles out of some of them already, which I can relate to.

I think the title of the book is something her parents would always say (like my mother) whenever she brought up certain topics: "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?"

Thank god, my father does not have any mental issues. While my parents have been divorced since I was 6, I have talked to my father a few times about my concerns about my mother, because since my sister is not helpful, my dad is really the only person I can talk to who truly understands the situation and can offer advice. I think I will call him today to see if he has any suggestions.

This was NEVER something that was on my radar, but I think caring for my mother as she ages is going to be a huge part of my life moving forward. It's scary. It's practically a full-time job. Not having had kids, I haven't ever experienced really taking care of another human being; i was always just responsible for myself, and I've been fully independent of anyone else, financially and otherwise, since I was 21.

There are many things I still want to do with my life, namely, travel. I am determined to still be able to do things like this but my mother's slowly increasing dependence on me is definitely a complicating factor.

Another challenge to deal with down the nearby road is getting her to start paying for occasional housekeepers. I have done the vacuuming and dusting in the past, but working f/t, i can't do this anymore. Right in her complex is a woman who cleans houses, and I urged her to start with her first because she knows her, and to find out what she charges. But that hasn't happened. Getting my mother to do things is very difficult. I have my hands full right now.

Once I get her bills in order, I may just call someone, but I also worry about having a stranger in the place alone with my mother and I might feel the need to be there while she cleans.

I worry about theft, mainly. Yesterday I returned to my mother a nice bracelet she'd been wearing Mother's day and which slipped off her wrist onto my car seat. She hadn't realized it was missing. That's the kind of thing i worry about should strangers come in the house and wander through the rooms without her constant supervision. It would be too easy to take something.

In other news...
The Las Vegas author paid me the final balance ($145) she owed me for editing her manuscript.

And the other author finally got a job! She's very excited becus it pays $20/hr and she said she'll finally be able to give me 2 more books to start editing by end of June. Of course, she's changed the start date more times than I can count, but it would be nice to have a new project to work on.

In addition to that, looks like I'll have something else "big" to edit for another client who is an IT director at a private Jewish school in New York City. He's written a new software program that he wants to launch. I've been editing his work emails for several years now and he really likes my editing, but often times i have difficulty understanding what he's trying to say and the subject matter is not something I know much about. Guess we'll see how it goes. He has trouble organizing his thoughts; that's why I edit his work emails...he said he's mailing me a document his lawyer drew up and wants me to sign so I'll have to review it carefully as i don't plan to hire a lawyer myself. I expect it's mainly aimed at keeping me from talking about his new software program.

10 Responses to “Taking over my mother's bills...someday you may have to do this too”

  1. Another Reader Says:

    I have been through this. I'm very sorry you have to manage this by yourself. It's not easy.

    Based on what you have described, at this point it would be wise to make a plan for her care now. Dementia is not linear, she could need help and full time supervision in a few months to a year or two. She should be evaluated by a doctor that is experienced in this ASAP. Any documents, such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, need to be completed immediately, before the dementia gets worse.

    You need to get the checkbook away from her control ASAP. Their are thieves out there that target the accounts of elderly, confused people. I found a revocable trust where I became the trustee to be very helpful. The checking account goes into the name of the trust, and only the trustee can write checks.

    Based on what you have described, an assisted living facility would be something to look at now. As she progresses, she will need to move to a locked facility if she cannot manage basic activities. Wandering is a real problem with dementia. In your winters, that could be fatal.

    You and your sister should be in agreement about how your mother will be cared for as much as possible. Sadly, finances will dictate her care. If she has a lot of money, keeping her at home is the best choice. It's too expensive for most folks. If it's not feasible to keep her at home, she will need to move into a group facility. Her house may need to be sold to pay for her care. Not sure how Connecticut works, but here it's important to get the person into a good facility before our version of Medicaid kicks in. In most cases, if they start as a private patient, they stay when they go on assistance.

    This has to be especially difficult for you, having undergone the financial and resulting personal stress of the last five years. Just when things are getting better, this happens.

    This process is very difficult, but understanding the disease and your/her options and planning how to take care of her will reduce the stress for both of you. I wish you the best in getting through this.

  2. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    A very hard path to have to walk. I wish we all had close extended families who faithfully pitched in. I'm really sorry your sister is not helping. Maybe she could be eventually persuaded to do so for your sake, even if not for your Mom's sake.

  3. creditcardfree Says:

    I'm so sorry this seems to have been put on your plate alone. A former neighbor of mine is just now in the process of relocating nearly four hours away to be closer to her mother who has the disease. Her father can't manage her mother on his own and needs assistance. This is uprooting teenagers in the process. It is a difficult road.

  4. LivingAlmostLarge Says:

    I worry I'll be there shortly because of how poor at financial skills my mom is. She probably should have me do it now but refuses to relinquish control. And she's only 62. But she's extremely private and my dad is 83 and is also close mouthed. Sigh I know there are many things they should be doing, but aren't doing.

    So I'll shut my trap until he passes. By that point I'll likely have to take over everything and start actually cleaning the houses and getting rid of stuff. I warn my mom that I will be doing an estate sale and I won't worry about anything. So anything precious should be given before or noted.

  5. hehateme000 Says:

    Wow this is a lot on your plate. I feel for you though. I think you are doing a great job so far!

    I heard that this is the craziest time for people your age because they have their own parents still, plus there kids AND grandkids. crazy. At least you are a good example of what it means to be financially stable and everyone around you can learn that for themselves so we all don't have to be dependent upon each other.

    I also read your side blog and you are well ahead of the game. I hope you find something after July but at least you do not have a mortgage payment. This whole situation could be a lot worse for you Smile

  6. snafu Says:

    I'm sorry to learn of your mom's problems managing her finances and it's impact on you. Another Reader makes very important suggestions.

    Since DH and I often work in third world countries for protracted periods of time, we take advantage of technology to manage finances. We trust the automatic bank services since our pays and various income streams have reached our accounts when due, for correct sums without error since those programs were offered.

    As back-up we have a parallel system for DS2 to monitor. All expenses, condo fees, tax installment, utility and CC bills are available on line and he has the 5 column list [Account number, Names, Internet Password, Date Due & last year's sum for reference] as a check off. Where allowed, utility accounts go to CC for 2% annual credit for re-occurring transaction. The remaining automatic deductions are paid the last business day of the month. That adds protection since the bank do withdraws first, deposits second.

    DS2 has our accounts on my old laptop as well as a hard copy that includes passwords and user names. To protect us long term he has Power of Attorney, Wills, Advance Directives and a joint savings account for just he and I in his safe. He can move money electronically from any of our accounts to that joint account if cash is needed.

    I worry our flight could fall out of the sky or the King of Thailand could die, or the Red Guard will re-invent themselves in PRC. DS2 spends about 15 minutes verifying transactions were completed and either calls or sends us an Eh OK e-mail, DH laughs

  7. PatientSaver Says:

    Thanks for all your comments. I actually did not receive any notification that I had any comments except the first one, and i was feeling sorry for myself thinking no one read my blog anymore. Smile

    But anyway, I do already have power of attorney but she is certainly not ready for assisted living. It may sound like sticking her in some facility is the right thing to do, but you can't force someone to do that if they don't want to and i can tell you, she wouldn't want to.

    It is not an all or nothing thing. She is not so far gone as perhaps you thought after reading my post.

    I'm going to need to take this one step at a time. That's all I can do. She is not incapable of living independently at this point. Yes, I do worry about her. Luckily my mother has always been fastidious about managing her finances, and she has everything documented and filed away so well that this has made that part easy. It it just now that in addition to terrible memory loss, she's having trouble understanding bills and statements. She actually already has a lot of stuff on auto pay from her checking account or auto pay of other bills on her credit cards. Ijust want to start managing it so I'm not inundated with questions over the phone and we also need to square away the balancing of her checkbook. It's $2,000 off, in her favor, so I told her don't worry so much about it. At this point, because it hasn't balanced in over a year, it's doubtful I could figure out where the mistake was made, and I don't think i have the time to pore over 12 months worth of statements. I mean, she could just stop writing any checks for a one month period, but since she's got all these auto pays set up, there would still be a certain number of transactions. But perhaps going cold turkey without writing checks would make it easier to see, after deducting the auto pays, what her true balance really is.

  8. Another Reader Says:

    It's not just the memory or the cognitive skills that are worrisome. Often the decline in memory means adequate food is not being prepared and consumed. If you don't see evidence, check the refrigerator and garbage can next time you visit. Is she still driving? Loss of a driver's license can change things quickly. Many states test driving skills annually starting at a specific age.

    In your shoes, I would have her evaluated as part of a check-up by her doctor. The doctor cannot tell you what will happen or when, but you will get an evaluation of her current capabilities. It's better to be prepared than to get a call from the social worker at the hospital and be told she fell and she can't go home and be alone.

  9. PatientSaver Says:

    My mother eats more healthily than 99.9% of the population. She is very aware of what goes on her plate.

  10. CB in the City Says:

    I meant to comment a few days ago but didn't get around to it.

    I think this kind of problem is going to occur more often and more quickly now that everything is computer-driven. I notice it in myself -- remembering all the passwords and sites is a struggle sometimes, and I long for the days when I just wrote a check and it was all so simple. I really feel for older people who have not really gotten on board with technology -- more and more, they are just going to be cut off as everything gets pushed online.

    Heck, even turning on the TV is difficult these days! We used to be able to just press a button and turn a knob!

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