by Anne Wenzel, Partner, Tiensvold Shaffer Wenzels CPA’s PLLC
So, let me begin by saying I am not a medical doctor, nor am I experienced in the various mental health afflictions that can plague aging adults. I am a CPA, a tax person. And while it seems I spend all day tabulating taxes, I have had time to notice much about my aging clients no one wants to talk about, and one of those things is what’s happening to mom and dad.
No matter how hard we try to prevent it or cover it up, we age. We ask our friends how their folks are as we pass them in the grocery store aisle. Then, we move onto other things because our life is busy, and we don’t have time to ponder the subtle changes we’ve noticed in ourselves, let alone those changes occurring with mom or dad.
Then it happens – mom leaves the stove on and goes into the other room. On Sunday, dad might mention the incident at family dinner, but everyone quickly lets it slip from the conversation, because it’s an uncomfortable discussion.
Often, I see parents afraid to admit they’re aging, because it means they are losing control. They are proud, and their adult children are so busy, and they would never want to burden their kids. Some parents do a great deal of planning for this day – the day they need to let go of daily routines, writing checks, paying bills and monitoring investments. Even those who plan well often believe there’s still plenty of time to have that family discussion. I routinely get asked by those adult children, “What are my parents’ assets?” “Where do they bank?” “What investments do they have?” “And why didn’t they tell me what was happening sooner?”
Then the car accident happens, a little fender bender – that’s what’s insurance is for, right? Or the fall down two small stairs and a trip to the ER results in a few bandages and some new medications for mom. Or there’s $2,000 missing from the bank account, and dad must have forgotten to record a check he wrote.
First, have the conversation early, now, while you still can! Talk to your siblings, or ask your parents for permission to talk to their accountant, attorney, banker, doctor, dentist, etc. Please realize – this isn’t about you! Stop looking for approval from your dad. Stop fretting about that sibling rivalry from when you were kids.
This current aging generation has been trusting and kind to those less fortunate. They have always had an intimate relationship with their money and their assets. They know their bank balance; they pay off their credit cards; and they have scrimped and saved in case there’s a Great Depression again. So they are targets for scammers. Ask to be copied on their bank statements, so you can see what is going into and out of the account every month.
Remember, you cannot just remove all responsibility from them without replacing it with something for them to do. Maybe dad was always a control freak, so give him a short summary every month – the assets, where they are, what bills were paid, when the next insurance payment is and whatever helps him to stay in touch with his money.
And when they do let you into their financial world, recognize their boredom. Mom has nonspecific dementia, and while she loved to read, now she may not remember re-reading the first page over and over again.
Just know you are not alone. Many of us have experienced this situation with parents and grandparents. Stay calm, and notice the subtle changes. Get help from those professionals who work with this all the time. Recognize that your parent is not mad at you. He or she is mad that they have lost their ability to handle their affairs. Watch for clues that don’t make sense. Be patient, but pay attention to the hints they drop. And have the conversations early and often. Good luck!