Your aging parent or elderly relative probably won’t advertise if they are falling behind on bills or in need of help, so it’s important to look for the common warning signs.
The list below will take you through the eight big warning signs that your elderly parent or relative may need help managing their finances. Keep reading after this list for tips on how to approach the topic and have a conversation with them about it.
The 8 Warning Signs That Your Elderly Parents Need Help Managing Their Finances
1. Evidence of Unopened Mail or Unpaid Bills in the Home
If you spot unopened mail piled up on the kitchen table, or stacks of bills sitting on the living room couch, it’s a sign that your elderly parent’s finances may be in trouble, and they could be in danger of missing payments. This is first on our list because it’s one of the most obvious signs someone may need financial help. It’s also one of the easiest areas to judge. Just walk around the house, do a spot-check and decide whether this seems to be an issue or not.
If it is, you’ll want to have a discussion about it with your parent. It also means you should take a closer look at the other warning signs below, because they may be present as well.
2. Evidence of Missed or Past-Due Payments
Seeing evidence of payments being missed is always a cause for concern.
Look for overdue credit card statements, late payment notices from utility companies (including shut-off warnings), and any evidence that creditors are trying to contact your elderly parents.
Here’s something most people don’t think of: You can check caller ID logs to keep track of incoming phone calls as a way to see whether creditors are calling. If you notice an increase in calls from new numbers, there’s a chance that they may be bill collectors.
Lastly, pay attention to the conversations you are having with your parents. They might mention forgetting to pay a bill, receiving a notice from the electric company, etc. If this is unusual for them, ask a few questions and find out what happened. Sometimes a direct conversation can tell you far more than anything else.
3. Evidence of Careless Spending
Have your aging parents suddenly upped their spending and started making unusual, outlandish purchases?
If you observe a trend of expensive new purchases around the house, like entertainment products and appliances, it could be a big warning sign that something is wrong in terms of their judgement. Look for any other purchases that you’d consider to be out of the ordinary as well.
If you have access to their bank statements or credit card statements, you can check those as well to make sure there is nothing extravagant or unusual being charged.
4. Signs of Financial Scams or Elder Fraud
Keep an eye out for junk mail and catalogs, particularly anything targeted at seniors.
This can include a solicitation for an investment scheme, any mailing referring to a contest or sweepstakes, any vacation home or real estate investment offers, and anything from unknown companies in general.
5. Excessive Donations to Charity
Charitable giving is great, and there are plenty of worthy causes out there. Unfortunately, seniors tend to be one of the most generous groups and that sometimes includes donating more than they can afford. Many aging relatives will fall into this trap of donating excessively and this can lead to financial hardships in the future.
The best solution is to ask your parents how much they are donating to charities, and which ones. If you hear something that surprises you or sounds far outside their budget, it’s a potential warning sign.
Also be aware that scammers often target unsuspecting elders while posing as a charity representative. Remind your aging parent or loved one to ask for detailed information before making a donation. They should ask for the name, phone number and address of the organization before donating. Also discourage them from giving any type of donation directly over the phone via credit card, as this is how most scammers operate.
6. They Complain About Not Having Enough Money
If cash and spending is the new favorite topic at dinner, it may be a sign that money is tight.
Look for any changes in life habits too. This might include fewer car trips to save money on gas, declined invitations for family outings that involve spending money, or signs that their home is being neglected or needs repair.
Any of the above could be signs that your aging parent is struggling to keep up with financial obligations, and you’ll need to work with them or a money management professional to determine the reasons behind this.
7. General Changes in Financial Awareness and Money Habits
Any break from normal tendencies when it comes to the finances of your aging parent is a tip-off that something is wrong.
Look for signs of forgetfulness or anything out of the ordinary. Maybe you’re at dinner and a credit card is declined. Maybe your parent has no cash in their wallet, when they always used to make sure it was topped up. Or maybe you notice a number of undeposited checks in their home, when they typically make deposits within one or two days.
If you spot anything unusual, it’s a sign that your elderly parent may be struggling to keep up with their obligations, possibly due to decreased memory or mental capacity.
8. Other Signs of Mental Decline
Everything above has been finance-oriented. You might observe changes in areas completely unrelated to finance as well though. Maybe your elderly parent forgot a conversation you had yesterday, or asked you the same question a few times. Or sent a gift, forgot, and re-sent the same thing the next week.
If you notice anything like this, it’s a sign that you should keep a close eye on their financial situation and make sure they are not in need of help.
How to Discuss Finances with Your Elderly Parents
If you notice anything unusual as you work through the topics above, you should have a discussion with your aging parent or relative to find out more (and come up with a solution!)
The best approach is to be sensitive and ask gentle, probing questions.
Here is an example of a question you can ask to get a better sense of the overall situation:
“A lot of people are having a tough time with the economy the way it is. Are you able to pay all of your bills on time?”
It’s important to take a soft approach for a few reasons. In general, parents don’t like being told what to do by their children. So you’ll have to break through a bit of natural resistance most likely. On top of that, money is a sensitive subject for almost anyone, regardless of age. So don’t be surprised if they get a bit defensive at first, it’s natural!
The more you can position yourself as an ally and someone who is there to help (and not judge), the more info you’ll be able to gather. From there you can work on addressing the issues you’re concerned about.