As an Irvine estate planning attorney, I often talk to my clients about the importance of having open and honest conversations with loved ones, especially when it comes to difficult or uncomfortable subjects. It’s not easy to bring up topics like managing finances, the possibility of accidents or illness, and dying. These discussions are necessary, however, not just for couples to have with each other but for adult children to have with their elderly parents as well.

Coming from a generation that considers finances a personal and private matter, your parents may be reluctant to talk openly about money. They may also struggle with asking for help or admitting that they need it. For some tips on how to start the conversation, watch this video here.

Rather than assuming that their silence is an indicator that their finances are under control, it’s best to watch for signs of trouble. Catching these signs early on can help prevent a financial disaster down the road—especially if mom or dad is not inclined to ask for help before it’s needed. Here are a few hints that your parents may be having some money problems.

Phone Calls from Creditors or Collection Agencies

If you’re spending time with a parent, you may happen to overhear their calls or voicemails. Calls from credit card companies or bill collectors may be a clue that your parent is falling behind on payments. Also, keep an ear out for suspicious calls as elderly people are often vulnerable targets for phone scams. Make sure they aren’t giving out their personal information to the wrong people.

Unopened Mail

If you notice that your parents have a lot of unopened mail piling it up, this could be a clue that they’re struggling to manage their bills or bank accounts. Whether the struggle deals with financial solvency or emotional overwhelm, the consequences can be dire. For example, when one of our clients asked their mom about the stack of unopened mail they discovered notices from the mortgage company threatening foreclosure because mom had not made  her mortgage payment in months!

If you are noticing unopened mail, it may be time to encourage them to accept some help with keeping track of due dates and dates for automatic deposits. You can also see if they’re open to the idea of setting up online access to their accounts so that you can help monitor payments and deposits.

Forgetfulness About Money

Watch for signs that your mom or dad has lost track of how much money they had in their wallet. Keep an eye out for uncashed checks. If you are already helping them manage their bank account, look for any skipped check numbers which could be an indicator that a payment wasn’t sent or a check was misplaced.

Mentions of Money

Considering how silent older folks tend to be about money, bringing it up on their own may be a sign of trouble. If they make comments about how expensive groceries are getting or how high their electric bill was, they could be concerned about not having enough money. The same could be true if they suddenly cut back on some of their regular activities.

Acting Out of Character

People certainly can change over time along with their beliefs, behaviors, and habits. Such change is not always an indicator of something being wrong, but it can be a factor which is why its important to pay attention. While quick and divergent shits in behavior are concerning and likely an indicator of problem, sometimes changes in habits will not always be obvious.

For example, one client’s father had his computer hacked by malware. That’s happened to so many of us that it hardly would sound the alarm about dad’s well-being. Yet, when our client examined the situation more closely, she discovered that the malware was a result of dad clicking on obvious dangerous and unsecure websites and becoming a target for spam and click-bait.  That was out of character for him as he was usually hyper-vigilant with security and computer use. That led to a conversation where dad revealed that he has been feeling more confused lately and was constantly worried about being late on the bills that he sometimes paid them twice! Fortunately, our client had been vigilant and they were able to get in front of any major problems.

We then helped this client and her father to amend his estate plan to include her as his trustee and power of attorney to help him manage his finances. Another option that’s worked for other clients is to have them work with a licensed professional fiduciary.

As uncomfortable as it may be for everyone involved, don’t be afraid to ask your parents if you notice any of the clues listed above. It’s also a good time to meet with an elder law attorney to make sure your parents’ assets are protected and that you have the proper legal authority to step in and manage their finances should their physical or mental health decline.

If you need help getting started and would like to speak to an Irvine estate planning attorney, we are here to help guide you through the challenges that you face. Simply call our office at (949) 333-3702 to schedule a consultation.

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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, veterans and teaching others how to protect what matters most: family, dignity, and legacy. Snyder Law helps parents from Orange County, Los Angeles County, and the greater surrounding Southern California area. 


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