A friend of mine assumed that his mother was on top of things when it came to paying her bills. He found out the hard way that not only was she not paying her bills; she had given her life savings to a scam artist.
Many parents manage their personal bookkeeping tasks just fine on their own. On the other hand, limited vision, arthritis, physical and cognitive conditions that limit their ability to write and understand, and forgetting to perform financial obligations altogether are reasons why adult children often step in and assist.
Make a plan to talk with your parents about the possibility of helping out with paying bills and managing their incoming mail. A phone call is not always the best way to tell whether or not an older person needs help handling these tasks. It is best to have this conversation in person. If they object, let them know that you are always available if they change their mind. Bring it up again in a few months.
If your parents agree to let you take on the responsibility of bookkeeping, you will have to decide whether your parents’ bills should be mailed directly to you or you may opt to make arrangements for online auto pay.
There are also legal considerations that must be secured ahead of time when assuming the financial chores of another. Importantly, discuss any potential liability and risks with an elder law attorney and a certified financial planner. Keep your books separate from your parents. Also ask the attorney about durable power of attorney for finances – and have him or her explain the importance of this document to your parents.
Other bookkeeping options to consider including hiring a professional money manager. This person could also help manage your parents’ incoming mail. If you plan to hire a professional bookkeeper, you may want to check out the American Association of Daily Money Managers. Also ask for references from the local banking institution or contact the Eldercare Locator for recommendations. The toll-free number is: 800-677-1116.
The importance of helping parents manage their incoming mail and bill paying cannot be overstated. Yes, there are privacy issues to overcome — their money is their business, and talking about it threatens your parents’ sense of independence. Let them know that you are just trying to help.