Alzheimer's, Mom and Money: When a Retiree Can't Remember

Alzheimer's DiseaseBy Cameron Huddleston, Contributing Editor,

When I started noticing signs that my mom's memory was fading, I was too afraid to tell her that I thought she might have dementia or Alzheimer's disease. So I called her primary-care physician and asked him to suggest during her next appointment that it would be a good idea for her to see a specialist to check for memory loss.

She took his advice, though the first neurologist she saw said that her test results came back relatively normal. Thankfully, one of her friends stepped in and took her to another doctor, who did diagnose her with Alzheimer's disease.

The diagnosis affirmed what I already knew -- that my mom's ability to handle financial tasks (as well as daily activities, such as cooking, bathing and dressing) would erode, possibly very quickly. As such, I told myself that I couldn't be afraid to step in and start helping her manage her finances. Here's how I did it:

I got power of attorney. After my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I knew I had to act quickly to get power of attorney to handle financial transactions for her. Without it, I wouldn't be able to access her accounts, sign checks for her or manage her money when she was no longer able to do so. And I couldn't wait until she didn't have the mental capacity to handle financial transactions before I secured this document. For a power of attorney to be valid, the person has to be competent when he or she signs it. Otherwise, you'll have to go to court, and a judge will have to deem your parent incompetent.

I used the diagnosis to start a conversation with my mom about the disease and how it meant her memory and ability to do things would only get worse. I told her that I wanted to be able to help her. To do so, I said we needed to meet with an attorney to draft all the necessary legal documents. She agreed.

My mom granted what's called a durable power of attorney to both my sister and me. It took effect immediately, and it will stay in effect even if she's declared incompetent. Another option is a so-called springing power of attorney, which will not take effect until your parent is deemed incompetent by a doctor. We opted against a springing POA because we were concerned that a doctor might be hesitant to sign anything that could lead to a legal dispute.

Once I had this document, I started contacting financial institutions at which my mom had accounts. Proof of power of attorney varied from institution to institution. Some simply took my word for it; others, such as her credit card company, wanted me to send the original document, but I insisted that I could send only a copy because my mother's attorney had instructed me never to send the original (which could be misused if it fell into the wrong hands). We went together to her bank, which required that she sign documents giving me power of attorney for her account there.

I started monitoring her accounts. My mother isn't tech savvy -- she doesn't even own a computer. And that worked to my advantage. I was able to set up online access to her accounts to monitor them, using passwords of my choosing. I wanted to take her checkbook away because she had been giving freely to almost every charitable organization that sent her a donation request. To do this, I suggested setting up automatic bill payments so that she wouldn't need paper checks, but she balked. Instead, I went through her mail every time I visited to weed out solicitations from organizations to which she had no ties. I wasn't able to take away her checkbook until two years after her diagnosis, when I moved her into my home.

I took away all but one of her credit cards. Experts I spoke with said that it was okay to be sneaky at times when dealing with people with Alzheimer's in order to protect them financially. That could mean going through a purse, finding a checkbook and copying down an account number so that you can monitor the account, or surreptitiously looking through files to get a better picture of a parent's finances. In my case, I pulled all but one of the credit cards out of my mom's wallet when she wasn't looking. For someone who could easily leave her purse behind without noticing, it was too much of a risk for her to carry all those cards.

Luckily, my mom didn't have a debit card. She simply used checks to get cash from her account. I left her with one credit card to pay for things when she didn't have cash on hand. This card was issued by her bank, and because I had set up online access to her bank accounts, I was able to monitor her use of it.

Once my mother moved in with me, it was much easier to take over her finances entirely. Even before that point, though, I was incredibly lucky because my mother was willing to let me help her. The few times she resisted my efforts, I simply backed off and tried again later or used a different approach. I've also been grateful that my sister and I have never had any arguments over how to manage my mom's money.

It's not always this easy for children to help parents with financial tasks, though. Some parents don't want to be told what to do by their kids; others are suspicious of their kids' motives. If you're in this situation, see Managing Your Parents' Money for tips on how to start a conversation with your parents and how to step in without sacrificing their dignity.

You also can reach out to a third party, such as your parents' doctor, attorney or accountant, to suggest that your parents let you lend a hand. They might be more receptive if the advice comes from a professional they trust. Or you can hire a geriatric care manager, who can facilitate communication between you and your parents. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers' member directory can help you find care managers in your area. They charge $100 an hour, on average.

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Alzheimers nor dementia are funny, however Tom's comment is humorous, which is a great gift to have when caring for elderly family. I've been the caretaker for my entire family forever, grandmother with Alzheimers, my uncle, and now my mother who has the added "gift" of frequent falls. My advice is to get an elder attorney immediately to ensure that your family member is taken care of properly, providing that you are willing and really do "care". It's been my experience that some family member are no better than vultures circling a carcass before it even gets cold. Also, develop a support system so that you care for yourself, preferably not a family member based on my experience. Sad, but true. My prayers go out to all concerned.

November 27 2012 at 6:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I remember when my Dad got Alzheimers. Or was it my Mother? I'm not sure but I think it runs in the family. What was the question?

November 27 2012 at 4:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tom's comment

LOL, humor about a tragic thing can be a relief.

November 28 2012 at 9:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sounds like most of congress and were going to think of kerry as sec.of state

November 27 2012 at 4:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

very good article; did the same with my mom and she was actually glad to be finished with the financial tasks she did all her life.Today she resides in assisted living surrounded by excellent caregivers and friends who make her comfortable at age 87. There will always be examples of situations where someone exploits an elderly person so the sooner you can help them manage their money ,the better off they will be .

November 27 2012 at 3:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

my situation was similar to yours, and I too was lucky that my siblings and I were able to work together to ensure that our mother got the best care possible and that her finances were handled. i had primary responsiblity ---- even having her checking account made joint so I could pay whatever bills were not paid through the bank's bill-pay program. but as she started to decline, it was necessary to act quickly, before she was incompetent to give informed consent. We had a POA, a health care proxy, and even reviewed her Will to be sure it was up to date and accurately reflected her wishes. She owned some relative;y worthless lot in Florida and we arranged for her to execute a deed making the property joint with rights of survivorship because if the property passed through her estate, her will would have had to be probated in Florida as well as her home state. As difficult as it is, it is necessary to have a good handle on your parents' assets, and to be aware of what and how they want thins handled in the event they can no longer manage their own affairs.

November 27 2012 at 11:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Please be aware that while your situation seems to work for your family,I had a completely different experience. My siblings made an agreement for one to obtain POA and they both financial exploited my Mother and fraudently qualified her for Medicaid. To make things worse they robbed her of her personal possessions and household property. Then as if that wasnt enough they tried to sell her home and put her in a nursing home.I had to obtain guardianship and conservatorship and still am fighting to bring her home to live out her final years. Please know most senior loveones want to remain in their own home and have a peaceful end of life experience. My advice is seek a geriatric specialist and a honest elder care attorney.

November 26 2012 at 10:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Please be aware that while your situation seems to work for your family,I had a completely different experience. My siblings made an agreement for one to obtain POA and they both financial exploited my Mother and fraudently qualified her for Medicaid. To make things worse they robbed her of her personal possesions

November 26 2012 at 10:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

In a financial P.O.A. you MUST PERFECTLY SPECIFY the exact power to change/remove a Trustee. If you use a bank as a Trustee, and your POA doesn't have the ability to change Trustess you are in real trouble. Banks close/ merge/ move ops out of town. Plus you can always find a cheaper Trust Company and save money. Many Trustees do a HORRIBLE job and you will want your POA to be able to switch. There must a be a specific line item in the POA document giving you this power. Otherwise you have lost control of your familys destiny - a bank calls ALL the hots!

November 26 2012 at 9:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hector A. S.

This is the president that USA need, A president for each single person who live in this nation, who love this country and want to stay here for ever. Obama is the president of USA as well as the president of the 100% of people who live here and contribute to the well being of each person and this great nation.

November 26 2012 at 8:06 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Hector A. S.'s comment

He is the president of you illegals not real Americans.

November 26 2012 at 9:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to freethedems2012's comment

I am the caregiver for my mother with dementia and am very offended that politics was brought into this discussion. This is about what we go through, so please go away unless you have pertinent information that could possibly help others.

November 27 2012 at 12:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

Just stating the facts, man

November 28 2012 at 9:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down


November 26 2012 at 6:30 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply