Taking over your parents’ finances

Marketplace Staff May 7, 2010

Taking over your parents’ finances

Marketplace Staff May 7, 2010


Tess Vigeland: Boundless opportunities exist in life for awkward conversations with your parents. It starts with the birds and the bees, continues through emergency withdrawals from the bank of mom and dad and then there’s the “Sorry, we’re taking the kids to the in-laws’ for the holidays.” It doesn’t get easier as we get older. In fact, one of the most difficult versions of The Talk is the one where you have to ask your aging parents if they need help managing their money.

Ben Calhoun has our story.

Ben Calhoun: A few years back, Eva Mendoza was taking care of her mother, Maria, who was in the earliest stages of dementia. Eva spent years working as a bookkeeper, and she was looking over her mother finances, when she noticed a problem.

Eva Mendoza: I noticed that her rent was not being paid, her phone bill wasn’t being paid.

But it wasn’t just that. There was money missing — a lot of money.

Mendoza: She told me that the bank was stealing her money.

That didn’t sound right to Eva.

Mendoza: So, I went to the bank with her. And the bank teller, she knew me for a long time, so she took out the withdrawal slips, and she showed them to me.

And then the teller turned to Eva’s mother.

Mendoza: And she told my mother, “You know that you come here, and you keep withdrawing money.”

Eva’s mother had been going to the bank with someone and withdrawing hundreds of dollars at a time. The teller knew who it was, too — it was Eva’s niece, her mother’s own granddaughter.

Mendoza: Oh… And if you see her, you’d think she’s an angel.

Eva was angry at her niece, upset her mother had been taken advantage of, and she dreaded what she knew was going to be a tough conversation with her mom.

Mendoza: I told her, I said, “Listen, something is happening here, and I have to take over.”

Her mother resisted, but eventually agreed. Eva assumed power of attorney, and set up a bank account for her mom. She arranged for her mother’s Social Security to go directly into that new account.

Now that she controls her mother’s finances, she’s been able to protect her from relatives who still, to this day, come asking for money.

Mendoza: Oh you know, “I have to do groceries and I didn’t have enough money,” “Oh the rent, I didn’t pay it this month.” So she’ll tell them, “I don’t have any money. Eva’s the one that has my money.

Seniors face a variety of financial threats — from family members who take advantage of them to a wide range of con artists. On the FBI’s website there are eight different kinds of schemes seniors are warned to look out for — from phony anti-aging product to funeral and cemetery fraud.

Senior service experts say their advice for adult children is talk to your parents about their finances.

Elinor Ginzler is a VP at AARP and an expert on parental caregiving.

Elinor Ginzler: There’s an immense amount of concern about even broaching this kind of a topic among families. People don’t like having these conversations anyway about what do we do if you need help mom and dad. The financial part of that conversation is likely the most difficult one.

Ginzler says talking about money can be hard. It can bring out trust issues in a family — hostility, insecurities. But it’s also possible to avoid those things, or overcome them.

Ginzler: The sad truth is that it’s critically important to open these lines of communications across the generations. And if you don’t get engaged in these conversations early, you’re going to actually end up in what can be a far more problematic situation later on.

As for Eva Mendoza, she says today, when she thinks about what happened to her mother, she still feels angry. She also says she does often wonder, if she’d talked to her mother earlier about her money, if maybe, just maybe, she could have stopped things sooner.

In New York, I’m Ben Calhoun, for Marketplace.

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