(Corrects paragraph 15 to say LivHome is in 15 locations
instead of 15 states, and that company "charges by the hour
depending on what is needed" instead of "$135 an hour for
By Beth Pinsker
NEW YORK, March 24 You get that call - all is
not right with mom or dad. Suddenly, you have to step in and
take over a life's worth of financial details.
For most people, this call comes too soon, before relatives
have passed along key information about accounts and passwords,
causing panic. But it's still a daunting task even for those who
have planned ahead.
Just ask Diana Raab, 60, who lives in Santa Barbara,
California, while her 84-year-old mother lives in New York.
Raab, who is an author, made the cross-country trip in March
after her mother got a bad cold and started losing her
She encountered total disarray: the cable bill hadn't been
paid in months, there were stacks of mail and her mom's credit
card wasn't working.
Where to start? There's a benefit to taking a methodical
approach and not trying to do everything at once in a flurry,
experts and experienced caregivers say.
POWER OF ATTORNEY
First, find out who your parent has designated as their
power of attorney.
If a properly signed and witnessed legal document is already
on file, you're ready to go, says Howard Krooks, president of
the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
This is where advice to those who haven't yet prepared is
key - set this up before anything bad happens. There is no age
at which it's too soon, Krooks says. "The reality is that a
disability can happen to anyone at any time," Krooks says.
If you don't have a power of attorney set up, though, you
can get one executed in a day, says Holly Kylen, a retirement
coach at ING. You can also get limited access to another
person's checking account by going to a bank branch with them,
says Jilenne Gunther, senior strategic policy adviser for AARP.
For situations where your parent or relative is too
incapacitated to participate, you can contact an attorney and
start the process to be named a guardian. In the meantime, keep
records of bills you pay out of pocket.
If the disabled person is married, a spouse can typically
access accounts. But, increasingly, married couples have at
least a few separate accounts and you'll need paperwork to get
into them, says Kylen.
What you don't want to do is call up pretending to be the
incapacitated person. "It's just going to come back and bite
you," says Kylen.
Once you get access to accounts, you need to go on a
detective hunt. Raab started with her mom's primary bank account
statements and made lists of the automatic payments, including a
supplemental Medicare policy. But there were other bank
accounts, too, along with multiple store credit cards. Raab says
she keeps digging and digging - she went through her mail and
her desk and now keeps track of most accounts online.
One challenge Kylen faced when taking over her mother's
accounts was that everywhere she turned, companies kept asking
for the original copy of the power of attorney document, and it
was just a pure paperwork slog. Her advice? Ask the lawyer who
executes the power of attorney agreement to get at least 10
Most families do this forensic work, culling through files
paper by paper. But you can hire a caregiving organization to
help. For example, LivHome, based in 15 locations nationwide,
costs $150 for an initial assessment and then charges by the
hour depending on what is needed, says Bunni Dybnis, director of
For additional resources, check out AARP's website (aarp.com/caregiving).
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has guidelines for
managing someone else's money (here).
When New York comedian Dan Nainan's mom took ill a couple of
years ago and his dad was suffering from dementia, Nainan and
his sister had to jump in and take over not just the bills, but
also the protection of their accounts. Their dad was so willing
to give money to anyone who asked that he got on the radar of
scammers, and now gets an endless stream of phishing attacks.
"There are people who are trying to rip them off day and
night," says Nainan, 52. He intercepts his parents' mail, and
also reroutes all the phone calls to a Google Voice account.
Nainan has over 300 numbers blocked at this point, but more
still try every day. If any legitimate callers leave messages,
he lets the caregiver know and she dials for his dad.
Kylen protected her mother by lowering the credit limit on
her credit card. She's also had clients who give an elderly
parent a prepaid debit card and deposit only a limited amount
PLAN FOR THE LONG HAUL
For Lynette Whiteman, a 57-year-old from Toms River, New
Jersey, the call came more than two years ago - her father was
not breathing well. Two weeks later, he was gone, and her mother
was not in a position to take care of anything.
"My dad was good financially, but he had this account and
that account. We had no idea what he had," Whiteman says. It
took a full tax year to sort out the accounts, which she dealt
with one-by-one, sending death certificates to gain access. Now
she manages her mother's daily affairs, while a brother handles
the long-term investing.
Her advice to people who get that call now is to be patient.
"It doesn't all have to be done overnight," Whiteman says.
She vows to make caregiving easier for her own children.
"The one thing I'm going to do for my three boys is make
these lists and tell them where they are," says Whiteman.
"That's a gift you have to give your kids."
(Follow us @ReutersMoney or here;
Editing by Lauren Young and Stephen Powell)