How to Manage the Finances of an Elderly Person and Still Keep Your Sanity

I start off every week with a pile of paperwork — mostly Mom’s: invoices, statements, transfer of trusteeship issues to deal with, stacks of phone calls to be made tracking down incorrect bills and paperwork, coordinating my brothers to get their to-do items done….  the list is neverending.

Those of you who are like me who have elderly parents disabled or about to be disabled, let me tell you that Power of Attorney and someone to manage the paperwork is mandatory.  Hubby’s family is in the same situation, but here is an instance (probably the typical situation, unfortunately) where no one is motivated to take on that task, so they live month to month wondering what’s going to happen to her when her money runs out, but frozen in a state of inaction about it.

I suppose it’s fortunate for my family that I have the sort of mind that can do these things.  Thanks to a lifetime of working as an engineer, I have plenty of experience in pulling teams together and prioritizing tasks to pull a project forward.  I am meticulous and fair, and I believe in transparency in everything I do so that my brothers never need to question who gets paid what and how much is in Mom’s accounts.

On the flip side, though, it’s a job.  Everything I need to do I do in quadruplicate, using 2 digital backups and then manually logging everything into a ledger.  I created a spreadsheet for all financial numbers, keep a log of every single thing I do and ever person I call.  Then I have phone numbers, ID cards, certificates, receipts, and statements digitally stored.

I’m sure there are very few people in this world who would be willing or able to do what I’m doing well.  On top of being ultra-organized, I trust myself to not cheat or steal.  I have no desire to have any more possessions than I already have, and what I have has been plentiful thanks to my personal circumstances and 30 years of long hard work in good and generous high tech companies.

How do the old people in our society survive?  The financial aspect of living, especially when you’re old, is a massive amount of complicated paperwork and phone calls.  It’s not just medical bills, it’s pulling together LTC and health insurance and residency, making sure the proper equipment is purchased and reimbursed, keeping track of monthly expenses and income and predicting and liquidating money so that accounts don’t overdraw.  The exercising of Power of Attorney in itself is a very long process in most cases — it requires special bank accounts, an enormous amount of faxing, notarizing, bank signature guarantees, doctor’s letters, and after that multiple phone calls to confirm.  Many times mix and repeat as you discover the other party has rejected your application or lost your paperwork or has decided they need yet another 11-page form filled out.

In order for me to get Mom’s Medicare statements, I had to change her SS trusteeship to myself.  This required three physical visits to the social security office (~ 3 hour wait), a visit to the bank to create a special bank account where they promptly refused without a specific letter from Social Security.  Then, weeks later, phone calls to Social Security asking why they haven’t sent me the letter yet.  Finally, with the letter in hand, faxing and then overnighting the paperwork back to the bank.  After 2 months, this process is still not complete.

The first thing I would recommend to anyone while your parent is still cohesive is, create a joint checking account with them.  This is the thing that has saved me.  I always shared Mom’s checking account, so when she landed in the hospital, I had the money to gather her bills and pay them.  Her Social Security, dividends, medical insurance, and cable bills and income were set up to use this account automatically.

With the joint checking account already in place, the rest of the work has been just to get control of her brokerage accounts, Social Security, LongTerm Care, etc. in order to get her mailing address changed to my house and keep the monies moving through smoothly.

I should do something with this knowledge that I’ve gained.  Maybe write a book:  How to Manage the Finances of an Elderly Person and Still Keep Your Sanity :p

How to Manage the Finances of an Elderly Person and Still Keep Your Sanity

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