Protecting elderly parents’ assets: your how-to guide
Caring for your aging parent can be a tough job — especially if their cognitive health is deteriorating.
Unfortunately, protecting your elderly parents’ assets isn’t something you can just decide not to do. The elderly are increasingly susceptible to fraud, abuse, and financial exploitation. The problem is even worse for elderly people experiencing cognitive issues.
You may need to help them manage their finances or even begin to make important financial decisions on their behalf. And the truth is, they may not always be happy to have your help. It can feel like interference and be a reminder of their own decline.
Here are some guidelines to help you secure your parents’ assets from a nursing home or other potential concerns.
Learn about scams that target the elderly
Older adults, especially those with physical or cognitive impairments, are subject to financial exploitation in a number of ways, from outright scams to sleazy sales people looking to take advantage.
According to the FBI, millions of elderly people are victims of elder fraud — financial fraud and schemes that target aging Americans — each year.
Common tactics for defrauding people like your elderly parents include:
- Outright theft
- Threatening phone calls
- Fraud schemes
- Unauthorized transfers of assets
- Lottery scams
- Electronic “phishing” for personal information
- Mortgage loan scams
- High fee investments
- Insurance scams
- Internet dating scams
- Work-from-home scams
Even if you don’t believe that you need to protect your elderly parents’ assets at this time, have a conversation with them about elder fraud and the types of methods scam artists use.
Particularly if you have a parent suffering from dementia, you may want to suggest taking greater control of their finances or putting a monitoring system in place so you can keep track of their spending.
Aging parents may have fear, shame, and even anger about their diminished capacity, so approach the conversations with compassion. And remember that elder fraud can be a sophisticated activity that impacts even those who aren’t dealing with full-fledged dementia or cognitive decline.
The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) offers guidance on things to look out for. These could be signs that your elderly parents need help protecting their assets.
- Bills left unpaid even if they have adequate income to pay them
- Difficulties making simple calculations or simple bank transactions
- Large or unusual withdrawals from bank accounts
- Turning over management of assets to people you don’t know
- Unusual explanations about financial matters
- Giving or spending large amounts of money or valuables
- Seeing property liens of foreclosure notices
To help protect your parents from receiving fraud via phone calls, you can put them on the national do not call registry so they receive fewer telemarketing calls. The elderly are particularly susceptible to telemarketing scams. Ask your parents to report any unusual phone calls to you.
You should also help manage your parents’ email accounts. Make sure they are opting out of mailing lists, another avenue for elder scams.
If you suspect financial or other types of elder abuse, you can contact NAPSA to get help in your region.
Talk now about protecting your parents’ assets
The decision to take over your elderly parents’ assets is never an easy one. But the earlier you have the conversations, the more prepared you and your parents will be if they do need assistance or become a target of fraud.
These kinds of conversations can be daunting. Your parents may be resistant to releasing any control over their finances. The key is to take it slowly, create a partnership, and ask rather than demand.
You can use phrases like:
“I’m starting to put together my will — is that something you’ve thought about?”
“If something were to happen to you, I’d like to make sure that your wishes are honored. Have you created any documents that would help me do that?”
“I want to make sure that your assets and finances are handled well into the future. Are you comfortable talking with me about how I can help?
You can also offer some shared transparency. For instance, you can set notifications so that your parent receives an alert for any big withdrawals from your account, and you get an alert for any big withdrawals from theirs.
Remember, you don’t have to get all the access to every account right away. The key is to begin a conversation so that you can help if and when you need to.
Creating a financial plan to protect your elderly parents’ assets
If your parents are willing to accept your support with their finances, you can begin understanding their accounts and their financial situation. .
A Durable Power of Attorney allows you to make financial decisions on your parent’s behalf. Talk with them honestly about how much involvement they’re comfortable with. There may be emergency situations where you have to take over financial management, but let them guide the level of involvement if you can. .
If your parents’ health is deteriorating, ask them to sign a Medical Power of Attorney that will allow you to make health decisions on their behalf.
There may be other people in your family that can share these roles as well.
Ask your parents about documents they’ve already created. If you’re in an emergency situation where you’re concerned about severely diminished capacity or immediate fraud, look for important documents such as:
- Wills and Trusts
- Power Of Attorney
- Medical Proxies (Power of attorney or other advanced directives)
- Financial Records: Statements and Bills
- Insurance Documents: Life, Medical, Property
- Tax Returns
- Rolodex: Look for the professional advisors (Investment, Bankers, Attorneys, Insurance)
Make a list of all financial matters and ask where records are so you know where to find them quickly. Keep copies of all financial records in a safe, fully accessible place.
If you’re taking over full financial management, you may want to hire a financial advisor unless your parents already have one.
Encouraging careful estate planning
Protecting your elderly parents’ assets can be a challenge. You may not see eye to eye about how much involvement you should have and how much autonomy they should have.
If your parent is completely resistant to your involvement, encourage them to seek the assistance of a trusted professional — a financial planner can help them look at their finances and begin to make a plan for the future.
And don’t let their resistance end the conversation. Continue asking how you can help and checking on their needs. Sometimes people need time and space to relinquish control.
The best thing you can do is continue encouraging them to create an estate plan so all their assets are safely managed. A good estate plan will include a Durable Power of Attorney and a Medical Power of Attorney, so you’ll be in a better position to help if they do become a target of fraud.
Schedule a free consultation with us if you need more help talking with your elderly parents about estate planning. We can help you select one of our Estate Planning services and get you started on securing your parents' assets.