Working daughters are often called on to manage their parents’ finances and personal affairs. This can be a daunting but critical task. While it is always wise and helpful to get expert help in the form of an elder law attorney and a financial planner, sometimes paying for expertise is just not possible. Know that plenty of working daughters manage their parents’ finances and long-term care planning on their own. Regardless of whether or not you work with a financial or legal advisor, we’ve created this guide to help you through your financial caregiving role.
Power of Attorney: What It is and How To Get It
Your parents may designate you or someone else they trust to be their power of attorney (POA). This designation allows you to handle financial and legal affairs on their behalf. You can help pay bills, talk to insurance agents, and sign legal documents for your parents. Suggesting your parents give you that kind of access may feel awkward but having POA is critical if your parents become unable to manage their own accounts.
How to get POA: You will need to meet with a lawyer to have a power of attorney document drafted to. It’s important your parent does this while he or she is still mentally competent. Otherwise, you will have to prove your parent is no longer competent and be appointed conservator or guardian (see below).
To find an attorney, ask around for referrals and/or visit the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) website (www.nelf.org), an organization that certifies attorneys specializing in elder and special needs law.
Your parent should choose a durable power of attorney – which takes effect immediately – rather than a POA that only takes effect if your parent becomes incapacitated. Have a lawyer make multiple original copies of your POA paperwork as many institutions require an original copy and you will not want to give away your only one.
Different from a POA, a guardian is someone a court appoints to manage another person’s welfare. Some adult children seek guardianship because their parents did not have a POA in place and they are unable to care for themselves or make healthy and safe decisions. The process for securing guardianship varies by state but typically involves filing an application in probate court.
Your parent may be eligible for aid, either based on his or her income, age, military service, or for a host of other reasons. These benefits, which vary by state, can help with a variety of expenses from medication to food to taxes to utilities. The AARP Foundation offers an overview of benefits and how to access them on their website (www.aarp.org/quicklink). Most municipalities also have a Department of Elder Affairs or a Council on Aging that should be able to help. Pro tip: Call these departments and agencies and schedule an appointment versus searching their websites. Government agency websites, with some exceptions, are often dense, poorly organized, and frustrating as hell.
If your parents served, they may be eligible for benefits and services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In addition to healthcare-related services, other available benefits may include financial aid in the form of a monthly pension based on whether the veteran lives in a nursing home or is housebound. For the most updated services available and for application forms, visit the Department of Veteran Affairs website (www.va.org). The VA will appoint a fiduciary (https://benefits.va.gov/fiduciary/) to oversee management of benefits.
Note: The application for veteran’s benefits is complex, but most municipalities have a veteran’s affairs officer. Contact this person for help filing and completing forms.
The Social Security Administration does not recognize POA designations, so you must apply to become your parent’s payee to manage payments on their. You can find that info here: representative payee (https://www.ssa.gov/payee/).
Medicare also has a form to appoint an authorized representative. (https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/CMS-Forms/CMS-Forms/downloads/cms1696.pdf)
You can complete the form if you have power of attorney.
Managing Everyday Bills and Life Maintenance
In addition to some of the complex issues you may need to tackle as a working daughter, there are a number of more mundane, but equally important, pieces of information that you should gather to help you manage your role. Here’s a checklist of information you should have so that you can support your parents:
- Bank accounts
- Life insurance policies
- Homeowner’s insurance policy
- Name and number of their insurance agent
- Social Security numbers
- Information on any pensions or annuities they may have
- Safety deposit box (location, number, key)
- Mortgages and deeds
- Any other debt owed
- List of monthly bills including utilities
- Military discharge papers
- Monthly expenses and how they are paid
You can try to get a sense of your parents’ financial situation by asking to help out with tasks like tax preparation, mail and bill sorting, etc. Like all potentially sensitive conversations, tread lightly and even though you might initiate the conversation, let your parents lead the discussion by telling you what they may or may not want help with and what concerns, if any, they may have. If your parents refuse help, ask them if they will at least take steps (POA) to make it possible for you to manage their estate when the time comes.
If You Have Concerns
If your parents have or are exhibiting signs of cognitive impairment, or you are concerned about their ability to manage their finances, you will want to monitor their financial activities. The easiest way to do that is to set up online accounts so you can track activity. You can sign up to receive email alerts for transactions so you can quickly notice any unusual activity. You can also set up automatic bill pay for recurring expenses.
To identify all of the credit your parents have open, get their credit report. Then, sign your parents up for a credit monitoring service like Credit Karma to get notifications when there are changes to their credit score.
You will also want to check if your parent is getting solicitations for donations in the mail. Many working daughters report that their parents are writing checks for every charity that makes a request. You can register your parents at DMAchoice.org to opt out of direct mail from illegitimate groups.
Scams and Fraud
According to the National Council on Aging, 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 experiences some kind of fraud or financial abuse each year. eliminate unsolicited offers for credit, go to Help your parents by eliminating financial solicitations at optoutprescreen.com. You can also block robocalls by calling 1-888-382-1222 (voice) or 1-866-290-4236 (TTY).