The last thing anyone wants to be thinking about on that first visit to your aging parents after what seems an interminable pandemic is that they may need more help than you imagined. But according to this article we recently discovered on the Kiplinger website, by nationally-recognized financial planner Kara Duckworth, preparing yourself for that eventuality is essential. What’s more, your degree of preparation can have a profound effect on your parents’ physical, emotional, and financial well-being.
You Can’t Always Spot a Decline from a Distance
The pandemic’s toll on your aging parents’ overall health and financial stability may have been stealthy and subtle, not visible over the phone or on a video call, says the article. And when you finally see them in person—something that should be a joyful event—you may find yourself taken by surprise instead. In her article, Duckworth suggests that planning ahead for these potential changes can go a long way to making sure your first visit home is pleasant, productive, and as loving as possible.
A note of caution, says Kiplinger: Don’t be surprised if the changes are deeper than you imagined. Phone calls and video chat are very limiting forms of communication, and Duckworth suggests that upon arriving home you may find piles of unopened mail, unpaid bills, and other clutter, like one of her clients did when they went to visit their 92-year-old mother after a year apart.
Spending Your Visit Clearing Up a Financial Mess
“Instead of just enjoying their time together,” says Duckworth, “my client spent most of her visit trying to figure out what bills needed to be paid, requesting refunds on those that her mother had paid multiple times and unraveling the merchandise subscription plans. She had to take her mother to the bank so that she could be added as signer on her mother’s accounts, have online access to set up automatic bill payment to ensure that bills were paid on time in the future and put restrictions on her mother’s debit card.”
None of these tasks were part of the excitement of seeing her mother, of course, and they took Duckworth’s client by surprise. But these are all common challenges facing aging parents today, and if you arm yourself appropriately before you visit, you’ll be better equipped to help them navigate these issues once you’re there.
Duckworth’s article focuses on a few recent changes that financial institutions have made that might be causing challenges for aging customers. There are also some helpful tools you might want to utilize to protect unwary parents from scams. Being aware of these before a visit can give you some things to watch out for
Protect a Parent by Prohibiting Over-the-Phone Card Purchases
Over-the-phone credit card scams rob seniors of billions of dollars annually. In her Kiplinger article, Duckworth writes, “Some banks allow you to prohibit the use of credit or debit cards to make purchases over the phone, or from catalogs or television commercials – helping to prevent elderly consumers from being scammed or signing up for difficult-to-cancel services.”
By requiring verification from the person managing the finances in order to make a one-time phone purchase, this program can be especially helpful for individuals with memory difficulties or other cognitive issues. Arranging this for your aging parent during your visit can prevent unwanted or even fraudulent expenses down the line, especially if you set yourself up as a manager on the account.
Watch Out for So-Called “Convenience” Changes Implemented by Banks
In recent years, and especially during the pandemic, many banks have made changes in how they communicate with customers. Banks claim these “convenience” changes were intended to help consumers, but they could end up causing some challenges for your aging loved one. For example, banks are pushing paperless statements and asking for electronic signatures. These features tend to be the default nowadays, but they can easily confuse and frustrate older depositors who are used to receiving and sending their bills in the mail, and getting a paper copy of a monthly bank statement.
Some banks will still provide paper statements but only for customers who ask for them. Be aware of these changes to your parents’ accounts and bill-paying habits and plan accordingly. They may need you to help them navigate these new technologies. A bit of understanding and patience on your part, plus your skills in dealing with the bank’s customer service department, can go a long way.
Paperless Bank Statements are Hard for Many with Disabilities
According to the Kiplinger article, the push for paperless bills and statements, with everything offered online, can be worse than merely confusing. For some with disabilities—especially visual impairments—paperless statements can literally be impossible to read, even with magnifying devices and other aids. One of Duckworth’s clients was forced to deal with this issue on behalf of her mother, who is legally blind and cannot read paperless statements even with her visual aids.
Duckworth explains, “My client’s mother did not know why she suddenly stopped getting her credit card statement in the mail, was not able to go online to access her account to change back to paper statements, and the customer service telephone number on the back of her credit card was too small for her to read – all of which was very frustrating to her and left her with little control over her finances.” Because of this, Duckworth suggests setting up a way for you to access your parents’ online accounts. This way you can help them manage their bills and statements, and act as a failsafe in case they are unable to access their account themselves.
When You Visit, Be Thinking About Future Care Needs
No one wants to think about their parents’ decline during a long-awaited visit, the Kiplinger article points out, but you need to stay vigilant when spending time with your aging parent, especially if it’s been a while between visits. “Even if you arrive for your visit and all appears well,” says Duckworth, “it is important to be observant of smaller physical and cognitive changes that could require some assistance in the future, and help your parent budget accordingly.”
For example, if your parents’ physical limitations make it hard to manage the housework and yard upkeep, that will translate into unanticipated expenses that should be budgeted for, such as hiring landscaping services or a handyman to install physical aids around the house. Even if your parents don’t need these things right now, they can be an important investment in the future. As with any aspect of caring for aging parents: you want to be as prepared as possible now, not scrambling in the midst of a crisis or difficulty. And planning ahead can also help your parent retain as much independence as possible for as long as possible.
Gearing up for that first visit home can and should be all about anticipation and excitement, but leaving room for a bit of careful observation and strategic planning can make all the difference to your parents’ health and safety. Approaching these issues strategically can ensure that your relationship with your parents remains solid and loving, and help them to feel supported as they age.
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(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)