Let’s face it: for most people, getting and staying organized is hard. Organizing someone else’s finances is not easy either.
So, let’s say that the time has come for you to step in and help your elderly friend or relative with their finances. If you are lucky, they asked for help at a time when they can guide you in figuring out where they left off and where you come in. If not, it is going to take a bit more time, but it can be done.
Here are some tips:
- Assess the level of your involvement. Are you going to take over everything? Just pay certain bills?
- Assess the level of your loved one’s abilities. How is s/he doing mentally and physically? Is s/he able to make good decisions? How is his/her memory?
- Do you need legal help? Now is the time to consider what types of “Power of Attorney” documents are available and whether you will need to have your loved one sign a document to give you authority to help. If you are going to need to speak with creditors or bankers you will need to have your loved one with you or have documentation that gives you legal authority.
- What is the current state of affairs? Are there any bills that are behind? Put bills in order of priority. Health, shelter, goods, other responsibilities. First look at health care policies. Make sure that insurance is in effect now, and is being paid without fail. Then make sure that the rent, mortgage, home insurance and local property taxes are paid, as well as utilities. Then check on how and when groceries and clothes are purchased and whether there are any credit card accounts or other accounts to be paid. And, finally, check on federal taxes, other insurance policies and other bills that may have been forgotten or put aside.
- Check on current income and assets. Look to see how much money per month your loved one receives and from which source. Become familiar with other accounts or assets that are owned and the approximate values.
- Organize all of the above into folders, files and lists.
- How can you make your job easier? You may want to set up online payments, or pay some bills in a lump sum that were previously being paid in small payments every month.
- Is there an emotional/familial piece of this process that you need to deal with? Unfortunately, some people deal with medical or emotional issues that can make them mistrustful or forgetful and a person who is upset at losing his or her independence may quickly become hostile. In addition, other family members may mistrust motives. If it is necessary to have a family meeting, or involve the family doctor, psychologist or attorney now is the time to do so.
- Do your reading. If you are under 64 years old, Medicare and Social Security Guidelines and procedures may be a mystery to you. You can find excellent resources on the web, and you should take advantage of them. You should also be aware that your loved one may need to sign specific powers of attorney for Medicare and other government agencies to give authority to release information to you.
- Take a deep breath. It isn’t easy, but soon you will establish your own routine.
Your estate planning and elder law attorney can help you in this process by giving you advice and by meeting with you and/or your loved one.