Q. My 87-year-old father has put a long-time helper in charge of paying his household bills. When my brother and I ask her about his daily expenses, she refuses to speak to us, saying that she only works for my father and doesn't have to answer any of our questions. She has even locked up his checkbook so family members cannot access it. I am concerned about his being taken advantage of. He insists that she is trustworthy, but I have my doubts. What can I do?
A: You are right to be concerned. Her attitude certainly raises a red flag. When it comes to financial matters, it's important for a family member to safeguard their parents’ savings. One way is to do that is to monitor day-to-day money matters and large purchases.
I know this is easier said than done. Our parents, many of whom have never discussed their personal finances with anyone but their accountant, want their privacy and independence from their adult children for as long as possible, so they might see this as meddling.
Ask your father to be named on his checking account and credit card, so that his day-to-day affairs can be managed in an emergency — that is, if he is suddenly unable to handle this task himself. Once you're on the account with his permission, set up on online view so that you can keep tabs on all transactions, whether it's through his bank checking account or credit card. It will also also allow the bank and credit card company to talk to you if you have questions.
In your particular situation, this can be done without the knowledge of the helper. For those who have been considering hiring someone to help with bills of a loved one, my advice would be to hire only professionals with experience in working with seniors to help with bill paying or other financial tasks. I'm personally a big fan of Daily Money Managers, professionals who provide an array of services including bill paying, keeping track of medical and other insurance papers, as well as working with accountants and attorneys.
What's most important is that they adhere to a strict standard of practice and code of ethics. Visit the website of The American Association of Daily Managers to find a professional in your area.
Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at nancy@ senioritymatters.com.