Seniors as much or more than anyone can benefit from assistance with their personal finances. With age can come a slowing down, a greater forgetfulness, and a general lowering of capacities in certain areas, including those relevant to making sound decisions about one’s finances.
There are certain signs that one who cares about an elderly person-or a self-aware elderly person himself or herself-might spot that indicate a reason to consider seeking assistance with personal finance matters.
Are things being left undone? Unpaid bill notices, letters from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), etc. could mean the person is having a problem keeping up with their financial responsibilities. It could be forgetfulness, a tendency to make mathematical errors, vision problems, physical difficulties writing checks, or other issues.
Is there evidence of financial scams? If a person receives way more than usual junk mail or telemarketing calls, it could be an indication they’re on a “suckers” list because they’ve responded to such scams in the past. If a person has written checks to unrecognizable companies and individuals out of state or worse yet out of the country, if they speak favorably about supposed investment opportunities that earlier in their life they surely would have been wary of as too good to be true, there’s a good chance their judgment is impaired and they’re being taken.
Is there a new “friend” on the scene, a little too eager to “help” an elderly person with financial matters? Very few elderly folks are lucky enough to have an Anna Nicole Smith to enjoy for a few years in exchange for a chunk of their money-more often it’s a garden variety con artist who’s insinuated himself or herself into their life and gradually gained more and more influence over them and their financial affairs.
There are a number of steps that can be taken to safeguard an elderly person’s personal finances.
Many processes can be automated, such as bill paying directly from one’s bank account, or having Social Security and pension checks direct deposited. The “no-call” telemarketing list, caller ID, and a good e-mail junk mail filter are among the measures that can cut down on scam solicitations. If you care about an elderly person, you can stay on the alert about newcomers to their lives (or even less than scrupulous family members and such) who are showing just a little too much interest in their finances, and you can warn the person early before the newcomer fully has their hooks in them.
However, though of course an elderly person should be protected from turning their financial affairs over to a con artist, at the same time it may indeed be advisable for an elderly person to turn over some or all of their financial affairs to someone more appropriate as they become less able to handle them themselves. Or if not to turn over the actual decision making, at least to seek financial guidance and advice from someone knowledgeable about their situation.
One option is to rely on a family member or friend. This should only be done with great caution. The person relied on should have proven over the course of a long relationship to be trustworthy and to be knowledgeable and responsible about money matters. It should also be someone who will handle the affairs in as open as possible a manner, so that other friends and family members are always aware what’s being done and thus can provide an additional safety check.
But depending on one’s circumstances, the better option could be to hire an actual financial planner.
If you go this route, however, it’s important to hire a reputable, licensed individual or firm. Don’t respond to slick marketing from people calling themselves “financial planners” who may have no credentials and who may indeed have far greater skills at marketing than financial planning.
It is advisable instead to find a financial planner through a professional association or regulatory body. Good places to start are the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., the Financial Planning Association, and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.
Any of these can help connect an elderly person with an appropriate financial planner, rather than someone who will take advantage of them.