I work with a variety of older adults, and often, when there starts to be signs of overwhelm and memory decline, we look at the credit report to make sure we have a handle on the accounts. You can get a free copy from the three major bureaus once a year, and it’s worth doing. When I recently ran my own reports, I found that my mom was listed along with some of her credit history. My mom passed away almost two years ago.
You should not have to pay ANYTHING, so if you are being prompted to pay, you are on the wrong site. If you are just doing a check up, I would request all three. On the first one from Equifax, everything appeared to be in order. When I got to Equifax, it provided more details and showed some accounts from my mom, who is now deceased. It also had several misspellings and listed former work addresses as former residences. It took around 45 minutes to get through the customer service system to the person that could help me. I found the same errors on the TransUnion report.
The good news is that corrections get shared with the other credit bureaus, and Equifax is going to send me a note when the updates have been made and shared with the other bureaus.
For my older clients (I work as a daily money money and help pay bills and manage day-to-day financial affairs), we take the next step and put a freeze on the accounts. They aren’t in the phase of life when they are opening up new credit cards or purchasing properties, and it’s easy enough to unfreeze should they need to open up a line of credit.
Monitoring your own credit report is one way to fight the growing risk of fraud. What are you doing to protect yourself?
Every year, at least $36 Billion is reportedly taken from older Americans, according to the National Council on Aging. The largest segment is “Exploitation” — when businesses, individuals, or charities use pressure tactics or misleading language to lead seniors into financial mistakes. My parents were prayed upon, and the source of the fraud was surprising.
When my parents still lived in their home, they signed two agreements for the same work — one was for a few hundred, and the second was for $5,200. Thankfully, my mom sensed something was wrong and called my sister. I lived near mom and dad so could stop by and found the two contracts for the same work — one that was horrifically over-priced. We were able to cancel the outrageous contract, but I should have also called the police, Adult Protective Services, and the Better Business Bureau. We were so stunned at the time that 1) they could victims of horrible people; 2) thankful we caught it in time that I never circled back to work with the systems in place that could help protect others from this same crime.
The Washington Post carried a story that detailed the depth of the crimes against three local seniors. They were robbed of more than $100,000 by what our local police call “woodchucks”. They start by offering to trim trees, and if they do return after you have given them a deposit, they usually find a host of other issues to repair. Most of the work is either not needed (roof tile or chimney repair that you can’t see), is done poorly, or never completed.
Holding that checkbook is for many, the last item in helping them feel control over their world. When I started to notice that my parents were writing weekly checks to a variety of charities I had never heard of, my antennae went up. If you read the letters, they are written to make the recipient believe they have already promised a donation. It can be hard to get a handle on this since it feels good to give. However, sometimes it can get out of control.
As a daily money manager, I helped one client who was giving over $2,000 a month to a host of charities she doesn’t even believe in because of the letters and calls coming into her home. He son asked her to keep the donations to under $30, which she did. However, she was writing checks and giving her credit card out nearly 100 times every month.
When we started working on bill pay together, I was able to show her how much money she was giving away and it surprised her. When we started to go through the mail and discussed the charities, she realized she didn’t know what they did or even believe in the mission. After taking these steps, it was easy for her to realize that she needed to reconsider her giving and we came up with a good solution for her.
If you are worried about this with your loved one, start slow. Work in tandem to get a handle on the charitable giving — tax season is a great time to do this. Create a list of the key charities of interest and suggest that you review all of the others at the end of the year.
Your loved one wants to stay in their home and you are concerned. Over and over, I’m finding that even my clients who have involved adult children are victims of some subtle forms of elder abuse that is stealing away hundreds to thousands of dollars a month of their parent’s money.
In the past month, I’ve had a client that got taken by a face cream offer. She does not have any cognitive issues and is now caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s. She never managed the money, so she asked me to step in to help her understand and manage the cash flow and help with budgeting since the expenses are starting to escalate with her husband’s care. When we started to review the credit card, I asked her what Lye Ludermacell was. She said it was a “free” face cream trial where she paid for shipping. Well, there was more than $200 of other charges for products on her credit card. She was very angry, as have been several thousands of clients taken in by the same scam. Michelle Singletary (The Washington Post) wrote about it earlier this month. We called to cancel and recouped 75% of the charges on the products she had received. We discussed how ANY offer, no matter how credible looking that says FREE and then asks for a credit card is trouble. Had we not looked through her credit card billing item by item, she may not have noticed for months–if even at all. So many older adults just set the bill on auto-pay and don’t scan the monthly bills. That is a very dangerous habit when so many individuals and even organizations are working to get to your money.
A few months ago, I spent more than 45 minutes with Juno trying to cancel the service for dial-up Internet my client was still paying for. She just never thought to question the monthly $9.95 billing for Juno even though she had wifi in her house. We also found a “free shipping” subscription billing her $25 monthly she had no idea how to use or what it was. So Juno took over $1,000 of her money and the shipping subscription had been billing her for two years for more than $600 of her money. I have ten zillions ways I could spend $1,600!
The one issue that is troubling me the most is for a client with mild cognitive impairment who generally is doing fine living at home. Not only is his daughter involved, but I visit him twice a week and we have an Aging Life Care Manager Another who is helping manage his medical visits and medications. When I noticed he had a physical therapy (PT) appointment on his schedule and neither his daughter or the Aging Life Care Manager knew about it, I made a point to stop by during his next PT session at home. It turns out that six months ago, his doctor recommended PT and they had an agency come in for a few weeks. It was determined after a few visits that he didn’t need it any longer.
So here’s the dirty underbelly of health care — somehow the first company passed the order to an affiliate who called my client to say the doctor ordered PT and started scheduling both PT and Occupational Therapy appointments (medication management). When I shared what I found, his daughter quickly called to shut down the service and cancel all future appointments, but the first few visits were billed to his Medicare account. Technically, the health care agency was implementing the doctors order, but it was already determined he didn’t need the services by the first therapist.
It’s the small issues that can add up making someone with cognitive issues living alone incredibly tricky. You want them to maintain the independence and lead the life they want, but you are faced with a number of risks from safety and fraud that mean another choice might be better.
You may want to consider bringing in a Daily Money Manager who is skilled at helping protect an individuals’ financial interests. You can find one in your area here.
*This initially appeared in the Quarterly Journal of the Life Planning Network Summer 2016
I am posing a challenge—and steps—for safeguarding your future.
After acting in the role of adult caregiver to my parents for more than five years, I have continually added, and updated my own lifestyle plans based on what I learned. As we as a community of professionals look toward how we might advance positive change in the future, I challenge us all to consider first how we are applying what we have learned to ourselves—and, then, how we plan to help others prepare for the rest of their lives.
Every week, many of us talk with families who are struggling with the care of a loved one. Most of the issues revolve around incomplete plans, loved ones unsure of what to do, and usually involve turmoil. How can we help educate our communities about the steps to take toward positive aging?
I watched as my parents made an effort to age better than their parents. They did everything the estate, financial, and insurance advisor recommended and blended in conventional thinking. My parents chose to buy into a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). They believed that none of their children would ever need to be involved in their care. Many of us know this thinking is still pervasive, and that buying into a Life Care or CCRC and buying a Long-Term Care Insurance policy doesn’t cover the practical lifestyle issues that create turmoil as health issues escalate. There most likely comes a point in your life when someone needs to speak on your behalf; that is something most adults have neither considered nor prepared for.
Everyone should be prepared to allow someone to manage
their finances and medical needs.
Because both of my parents developed cognitive issues that escalated during a healthcare crisis, I needed to be able to step in as their financial and healthcare advocate. When I tried to use the durable power of attorney naming me, and it was refused by firms such as Fidelity, USAA, and even Wells Fargo, I was lucky that my dad had set up digital access to his accounts so I could help manage his financial affairs online. However, it took me nearly a year of forensics to understand their cash flow, corral the finances, manage basic household details, and contact service providers that could service prepaid agreements and appliances covered by warranties.
When it was time to make life and death choices for my dad, I found the guidance in his medical directives minimal. What did dad want me to do when he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor while living with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis?
Not only do we need to have estate plans in place, we need to provide the detailed information that is needed to fulfill the powers you grant.
Good estate planning is for the living.
Most American’s believe that estate planning is for the distribution of assets, and the 44+ million Americans who are now acting as caregivers in some capacity already know that most of us will need some help in our final years. The reality, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Humans Services, is that 70 percent of us who reach age 65 will need three or more years of long-term care services before we die. We might only need help cooking, or driving; but we might need more—someone to make daily living choices on our behalf. And that reality should mean that more Americans are having an ongoing dialogue about how they will manage their daily activities in future years.
My two children, now 19 and 13 years old, watched as I helped my parents. I often discussed with them the many challenges my parents’ care created. Because my parents bought into a Continuing Care Retirement Community, we knew they would always have a bed, but they wouldn’t necessarily always have someone advocating for their interests and needs. That was the primary role I played, on top of financial and medical advocacy. I wanted them to be able to enjoy their final years. Because I had lived most of my adult life near my parents, I had a good handle on their personal choices and end-of-life wishes. So many adult children that arrive after a crisis begins don’t have such knowledge. If we want a different outcome, we must plan differently.
Consider some common roadblocks that confronted me as I stepped in as my parents’ financial and medical advocate:
Retirement plans and money distributed among a host of different providers. My parents, like others of their generation, were not going to put all of their financial eggs in one basket. It took more than a year to find all of their bank accounts. They had relationships with over 13 financial services firms; their financial advisor knew about only one.
Financial institutions often have their own requirements for a durable power of attorney. Some institutions did not recognize the legitimacy of my parents’ powers of attorney. Thank goodness for the internet—and that my dad set me up to act on his behalf digitally. This is a complex issue and my advice is to find a lawyer dedicated to the practice of estate and elder law that you like. You may need help in the coming years.
The belief that doctors will take care of all of health care needs and choices. I still chuckle when I recall how every year my mom would tell me she “passed” her physical. Once I stepped in to be her advocate, I had to be able to quickly represent her medical issues and serve as an encyclopedia of her past medical history. The system I created to document it was always in my briefcase.
Documentation of home repairs and improvements. I needed it to maintain my parents’ home before it was sold, and then to minimize the tax consequence of the sale to help pay for possible future care needs. It was financially worth the hours of searching for records in the home office, mom’s secretary, and attic files.
The digital footprint beyond major financial accounts. We had no idea how extensive my father’s digital footprint was. And without documentation, we were unable to close email accounts and had to cancel credit cards to shut down other services. Thankfully, he wasn’t engaged in any social media.
While we will have new technologies and medical breakthroughs that may improve how we age, I’ve taken steps for the future of my aging that I can control. I’ve made sure, for instance, that in my household there will be no single point of failure. While my husband and I divide-and-conquer a host of tasks, and even some bill payment duties, we now have a shared playbook that my kids and my brother, who is named the durable power of attorney, know how to access and use. Because the practical details and information I needed to help my parents were overwhelming, I created a system to help me maintain my sanity.
When friends and colleagues started to ask me for copies, I wrote up a business plan and received an “Older-Adult Focused Innovation” award from AARP Foundation that launched my best-selling book MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life. The workbook just received a “Caregiver Friendly” award from Today’s Caregiver that will be presented at the October 2016 conference.
While I set up all these tools thinking I would be helping caregivers, I’ve been rewarded to learn that most of my clients are between 40 and 60 years old and use the system to coordinate their shared households or set up plan B with a friend. Our world has changed, and how we manage our documents, accounts, details needs to change as well.
I am answering the challenge to improve the future of aging by creating and maintaining a roadmap of my accounts, documents and details. It includes a list of my 80 online accounts, a copy of Five Wishes—an advance directive created by the non-profit organization Aging with Dignity—along with a summary of my end-of-life wishes in more detail to help guide the person named as my medical advocate in my healthcare directives. I am also volunteering dozens of hours each month to teach classes, develop a village within my own community, write articles and make media appearance to advocate how sharing this information will help all of us age better. Will you join me?
Every year an estimated 5 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. And that’s only part of the picture: Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported. This post is to honor June 15, 2016, which is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
While likely under-reported, elder financial abuse costs older Americans $2.9 billion per year(National Council on Aging). When my parents started to slow down and I noticed they were a little more forgetful, my siblings and I went on high-alert.
Thankfully, when mom signed a contract with two different firms to repair a small hole in their gutter, one for $5,200 and one $1,200 for the same repairs, she called my sister sensing she needed help and we were able to step in and cancel the contracts. It was a major warning signal that someone could take advantage of our parents.
For the 34.2 million Americans providing unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older (Caregiving in the US – AARP 2015 Report) in addition to helping with their care needs, if someone is not helping with the finances, it’s important to be vigilant because of the growing threat of elder abuse. If you want to get get your own records organized, download Save It or Shred It for a list of the documents you should keep.
Some elder abuse is subtle. I watched as my parents started to send checks to a wide-variety of new charities they had not previously supported. Then I started to see new magazine subscriptions to publications they would never read. These were smaller, more incremental solicitations that played on my parent’s beliefs and forgetfulness. Within a year, both parents were diagnosed with different forms of dementia.
Many adult children struggle to help mom and dad, but there are a few ways families can work together to ensure their parent’s don’t fall victim to a scam.If you are starting to see new spending habits, three things you can do:
Offer to help in small ways to support your parent. The fear that a child will take away car keys or put them in a “home” are very real, so make sure they know you will just be stepping in to work side-by-side until they can manage again on their own. For more on this check out this story on the concept of being a “care partner”.
Meet with an estate or elder care attorney if you do not have a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) or Healthcare Directives in place. You will need these to be an effective advocate for your parents(s) and doing this now will be invaluable should a parent’s health decline.
Contact Adult Protective Services (APS) if you have evidence of fraud. While there is little they may be able to do, they should be able to direct you if there is evidence of financial abuse. Before you pursue this option, I hope you will check with an elder care attorney.
The two ways my parents became super subscribers and diligent donors was from phone solicitations and incoming mail. Many of us have heard about the phone scams, but you can’t discount the mail as a potential threat to your parents. Many charities and publications thoughtfully word their solicitations using language that allows the reader to believe they have already pledged money as well as been subscribers. It’s incredibly effective.
Most American’s are unaware that $58 billion is sitting in state and federal treasuries — it’s money that got lost in the shuffle of a move, crisis and even death. As a caregiver, you should know about the MissingMoney.org website. You can do one search and see if any of your loved ones money ended up in a state treasury. Every year, I do a quick search to see if anything slipped through the cracks. A few years ago, we found a record for my dad and claimed $2,500. Turns out, something was left behind in Kansas when we moved away in 1969.
Given the amount of accounts you accumulate today, it’s easy to understand how easy it might be to forget about a stock certificate, utility deposit, or even a small retirement account. I even found some of my money that was for an overpayment to the county water utility…
Had my parent’s had a road map to their personal information, I would have been able to spend more time with them and not dealing with chaos I faced in trying to step in to help them. Most of us don’t have this in place, but I hope you will consider that doing this will immediately benefit you, and your loved ones should they need to step in and help. A simple tool to get started can be found in most bookstores called “MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life”.
My first blog post was on February 1, 2012. I had been a watchful daughter and knew something was wrong, but even after two family meetings (all of my siblings flew in and we shared our concerns together over dinner), my parents were not interested in making any changes to their lives. At one point I had given up, but my siblings convinced me to keep trying. I started to try different tactics, which in the beginning was just finding more ways to engage with my parents on a daily basis. My first blog post is about my dad who got lost driving to my home, a drive he had taken hundreds of times previously. Looking back, my blog really doesn’t start at the beginning, but it does start at the point when most families and friends realize they need to help.
Healthline, a consumer health information website with 65…