Caregivers can help aging loved one make the most of the assets they have with the least amount of compromise to their quality of life.
“Be Prepared.” The Boy Scout motto rings true in so many life situations, and at any age. Even seniors need to be budgeting and planning financially for the future. The checks and balances wheel never stops moving, even after we’re gone. Caregivers are left to tie up loose ends and make critical decisions. It is to everyone’s benefit to assist loved ones in financial planning while they still can.
There are a number of things to consider when preparing to take on another’s finances, in any capacity. A caregiver must not let their own anxiety, or even guilt, influence decisions on their loved one’s behalf. It’s essential he or she allow their loved one to retain their independence and feel included in decisions.
If a loved one is completely unable to participate in their financial plan, a caregiver must make every effort to involve all immediate family members. Nothing causes sibling rivalry faster than one brother or sister feeling left out and unappreciated. Each may have a unique perspective and personal experience to supplement the planning process.
Family meetings, whether in person or via the many technologies available today, are a great way to keep everyone informed on spending and income trends. Even though it is more efficient for one person to be keeping the checkbook and assets up-to-date, many siblings would be more than happy to help out if asked. As a caregiver, a team effort is vital. And, if crisis would strike, all parties are on the same page, ready to respond.
A CAREGIVERS CHECKLIST
Encourage fiscal responsibility
It is imperative a person of any age lives within their means. Working relationships with bankers, investment professionals and/or accountants help seniors stay abreast of any changes in their financial health. These people are also an important resource to caregivers in times of crisis.
Know where to find important documents
A loved one’s will is the most obvious document family may think to have access to. Though wills are essential, there are many other documents a financial caregiver needs. Insurance policies, pension records, bank books are just a few. A caregiver should take time to locate these as soon as possible, so in the event of an emergency, the financial response is organized.
Obtain access to secure confidential information
In today’s world of top-secret codes and passwords, a social security number no longer guarantees open-book access to personal records. It is an absolute necessity that a financial caregiver gain complete access to their loved one’s funds and assets. He or she may need to become a joint owner of an account, or make arrangements through the financial institution to be able to conduct transactions. This secondary access should be set in place as soon as a caregiving agreement is reached. The ability to quickly access information will not only protect a loved one’s assets during an emergency, but eliminate frustration down the road.
Consider automatic payment or direct deposit options
Many seniors can benefit from the online payment options most companies are offering their clients. A caregiver can easily set up monthly debits from a loved one’s checking to pay utilities, insurance, mortgage bills, etc. The payment will most likely be linked to an email address, which allows a caregiver to see when payments are made, and ensuring they are.
In addition to Internet payment options, a caregiver may want to consider the direct deposit feature offered by Social Security, pension funds, etc. This eliminates another task needed to be completed. The National Caregivers Library does offer this piece of advice regarding direct deposit: “Also be aware that a 1996 law, with certain exceptions, requires that federal wage and retirement payments be sent electronically. So before ruling out direct deposit, consider talking to the Social Security Administration, bankers, and others involved in the process to try to clear up problems or misconceptions.”
Anticipate future expenses
Once access to accounts and bill payments are set up, a caregiver should look to the future, and anticipate what’s to come. Take an inventory of assets versus debts to determine a loved one’s actual net worth.
In addition to medical services, home adaptations or living expenses may be changing frequently. Agencies which provide these types services can provide estimates. A good caregiver, however, knows to always be prepared for both the expected and the unexpected.
GET YOUR PAPERS IN ORDER
In addition to gaining full access to financial records and being a joint owner of accounts, there are other paper trails to have covered in the event a loved one is unable to care for themselves. “The Family Caregiver Handbook” written by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology explains in details these documents. First, is the Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) and second, the health care proxy.
The handbook explains that “these documents are particularly important because if there is no DPOA and health care proxy, and it develops that an elder lacks capacity to make financial or health care decision, then a guardianship (over the person) or conservatorship (over finances only) may need to be established by a court proceeding. This can be an expensive and complex legal process at a time when the elder and family face a medical or situational crisis. It is a problem you do not want to have.”
The DPOA allows a caregiver legal powers over their loved one, which can include real estate, financial and banking transactions. It is effective immediately after being signed and stays in place if the person becomes disabled or incompetent. The health care proxy allows a caregiver to make health care decisions for the person in the event they are unable to do so themselves. Some states also have living wills, which may act in place of the health care proxy. If a loved one travels a lot or resides in a different state part of the year, it’s beneficial to have both documents drawn up.
TAKING CARE OF YOU
Caring for another is a large responsibility, especially since many caregivers are near or at retirement age themselves. Caregivers should have a personal financial plan in place, as well as another plan drawn up for their loved one. A good plan includes a monthly budget with expenses and income listed, review of health insurance plan(s) and what is covered, and assessment of assets and debt.
There are also resources available for caregivers to find financial relief. On a national level, the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) has been created to help relieve financial hardships for unpaid caregivers. It was developed in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging, and offers a range of services to support family caregivers. Individual states are providing information to caregivers, assistance in gaining access to the services, counseling, training, respite care, and supplemental services. In 2008 alone, more than 600,000 caregivers were assisted through this program, and in 2009, $154,200,000 was funded to the caregiver initiative nationwide.
Caregivers should also contact their tax adviser or the Internal Revenue Service to find out what deductions may be available to them. If providing full-time care to a loved one, it may be possible to claim that person as a dependent.
Three other agencies are available for caregivers to gather information. First, the National Center on Caregiving, established in 2001 as a program of Family Caregiver Alliance, works to develop cost-effective programs for caregivers. Second, the National Alliance for Caregiving, is another non-profit with information for caregivers and access to resources. Last, the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the Administration on Aging provides instant connection for seniors needing local connections.
DON'T GO IT ALONE
Many resources are available for caregivers dealing with a loved one’s financial issues. The first sector is private, which includes bankers, lawyers, insurance agents and financial planners. These people may have had dealings with a loved one in the pasts and have a detailed knowledge of their finances.
Some other private professionals specialize in helping the ill or elderly. Elder law attorneys handle estate planning, Medicare and Medicaid issues, fraud, and other legal issues. Daily money managers may assist in paying bills, balancing a checkbook and monitoring daily financial issues. They are a good resource for long-distance caregivers. So are geriatric care managers, a growing profession in lieu of an increased elderly population. These professionals assist families in whatever capacity is needed, including financial management.
Second, public resources are available. Social service agencies are sponsored by state or county governments, and have aging resources for residents. From the Social Security office, to local government programs, many groups are established to help caregivers provide the best care possible, and be organized in the process.
Financial caregiving is a complex series of tasks. The best way to approach it is step-by-step and be an organized caregiver. Knowing things are “good to go” when the time comes that a loved one needs help will make the transition much easier and less stressful for caregiver and loved one alike.
Written by Jennifer Bradley; Published in partnership with Caregiver.com.