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NEW YORK, July 7 (Reuters) - Martha Nurenberg knew her 86-year-old father, Paul, had a problem when he was almost taken in by a letter promising untold riches if he provided a bank account number and payment of legal fees for a money transfer.
Though Paul never sent any money, he did answer the letter with interest.
As dementia set in, Paul could no longer remember the password to his computer where he kept his financial records. Then Nurenberg received a call from the director of her dad's senior living facility, who said Paul had not paid his last two bills.
"We realized that he couldn't keep the financial records anymore," says Nurenberg, who runs the AARP's employee volunteer program in Washington, D.C. But neither she nor her three siblings lived anywhere near their dad's facility in Middlesex, New York. Nor did their mother, who is also suffering from dementia, know anything about the complicated records her husband kept.
So they called a professional, Jacquelyn Bell, a Rochester, New York-based CPA who wears a second hat as a daily money manager for clients such as the Nurenbergs. Instead of just filing quarterly or annual tax forms, Bell receives her clients' mail, pays their bills, balances their checkbooks and helps them keep to a budget if they are on a fixed income.
For the families of the more than 5 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, such hands-on services can be a necessity. "Most of my clients fall into a few categories - no family or children, have children but not local, children are too busy, or elder financial abuse," says Bell.
Demand for daily money management services as America ages is likely to grow significantly, but at least for now the profession is virtually unknown. The American Association of Daily Money Managers (AADMM) (www.aadmm.com/default.htm), the profession's primary trade group, has only about 700 members nationwide.
What is more, no government agency regulates daily money managers, even though they have access to clients' sensitive financial information. For this reason, properly vetting a potential manager is essential. That means asking for references from other clients, and, when possible, checking with state professional licensing boards for credentials and for such things as malpractice.
The AADMM provides certification to daily money managers and lists of credentialed members. This guarantees at least a certain level of proficiency in the field.
To avoid fraud, be sure to establish certain safeguards. Money managers should provide monthly reports of all their financial work, including copies of bills paid, if requested. Some clients create a bank account specifically for the money manager that has limited funds, just enough for the monthly bills and a small amount left over.
Meanwhile, the rest of the client's money is off limits.
Bill paying alone is usually not all that hard, but if health, long-term care or other complex issues become part of the mix, expertise may essential.
That is where someone such as Sheri Samotin may come in. Prior to founding her daily money management business, LifeBridge Solutions, in 2009, she spent some 25 years in the healthcare industry, much of it as a manager of a medical practice where she often negotiated with health insurers unwilling to pay claims. She is familiar with the complex codes hospitals and insurers use for medical procedures, including what is covered and what is not by different policies.
But if tax, estate or small-business issues are more of a concern, a CPA such as Bell would likely fit the bill.
Also, since trust is such an important factor, ceding power to a manager all at once may not be wise. Initially, Nurenberg's father would sign all the checks Bell was writing for the bills so he had a chance to review them. As he deteriorated, Nurenberg, who had power of attorney for her parents, signed them. Now Bell, having proven herself, handles everything.
Dementia or other disabilities are not the only reasons to hire a money manager. Parents often hire managers to handle the affairs of their mentally disabled children's estates after they are gone.
Addictions are another reason. Bell has shopaholic and gambler clients whose checkbooks she keeps in her safe so they cannot get to them.
For many the service can be a matter of convenience. "While mom's very capable of paying her bills, this lets her focus on enjoying her retirement," says Mitchell Dannenberg, a Naples, Florida insurance salesman who hired Samotin to handle his mother's finances.
Costs of daily money managers vary depending on the services required and your location. Bell charges $90 an hour but says services can cost as much as $150 a hour in pricier New York City. Some clients only require an hour of service a month while others need five to six, she says.
It is not cheap by any means. But for Nurenberg, Bell is more than a financial security blanket. She is a "godsend," Nurenberg says. (Follow us @ReutersMoney or here. Editing by Beth Pinsker, Lauren Young and Steve Orlofsky)