How To Deal With Aging Parents Who Refuse Help With Finances

Trying to get financial control can be a highly frustrating problem for adult children. They have been appointed as agent on an impaired parent’s Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), but the parent stops them from getting involved. The dilemma is this—the kids see that Mom or Dad is losing it, forgetting to pay bills, getting notices from the IRS or utility company that things are past due, and they need to act. They start by telling the parent that they are going to take over. The parent balks and says “leave me alone, I’m fine.”

Many elders with cognitive impairment do not recognize that there is anything wrong. They may reluctantly admit that they have “a few memory problems” but they dismiss the fact that this is affecting their ability to safely manage their own money. The adult children see it and feel a sense of panic over the consequences of not paying bills or ignoring debt.

What Can Adult Children Do?

Ideally, the family of the aging parent persuades them to agree to a checkup with a doctor who can evaluate their cognitive ability. We know from subst antial research that the capacity for making safe financial decisions is the first ability to decline when dementia develops. A diagnosis of dementia alone is not enough to determine that a person is no longer safe handling money independently. It takes a competent healthcare provider to do this assessment and reach a conclusion based on testing and interviewing the elder. But “ a few memory problems” as the aging parent might describe them may indeed be more serious than the elder thinks they are.


If Your Aging Parent Won’t See A Doctor, Then What?

Adult children need to strategize carefully in their approach. Respect for the elder is paramount. It’s not a good approach to start out by informing your aging parent that you’re taking over now because they’re a mess. They’ll likely take offense at that. It works better to say you’re worried about this particular bill (show it to them) and offer to help ensure that all the bills are paid on time so the aging parent won’t have unnecessary late fees and penalties. Many families use this tactic as a starting point.

A next step is to get access online to the bank or financial institutions where the assets are kept. If your aging parent is departing from a normal pattern of withdrawals and spending, you can track it. Figure out what they need to spend every month and what may not look right in the statements. Aging parents who bank online will need to give you their passwords, of course. With permission, you can get online access to their accounts even if your aging parent does not use online banking. If some of them resist allowing you to do transactions online, you can at least watch over the finances and act when needed.


When Should You Take Action Even If Aging Parents Resist?

A typical example of when to take action is the case of two daughters trying to help out their wealthy 85 year old dad. He doesn’t believe in seeing doctors. He won’t go to one. Daughter 1 has been paying Dad’s bills for a few years, since it became clear that he forgot all too many of them and she got alarmed. He was fine with allowing her to do that. Daughter 2 is appointed Dad’s agent on his DPOA. That document says it is effective immediately, but she had not been using that authority. Both daughters noticed some suspicious withdrawals and payments, some by wire, to an employee “E” in the golf shop from Dad’s retirement community. It looked as if this character, a young woman, was manipulating their father.

Money Leaves A Trail

The sisters got Dad’s bank records. Sure enough, there were 11 odd withdrawals and some cancelled checks written to “E” that appeared to have Dad’s signature forged on them. Now was the time for Daughter 2 to use her authority, contact the banks, stop wire transactions, warn them about the manipulator, and keep Dad from being ripped off any further. She got advice how to do this at, and took action immediately. Dad is annoyed that he can’t keep mindlessly giving away his money but his access to his funds is now controlled by the person he appointed to act on his DPOA.

The Takeaways

  1. If your aging parent is forgetting to pay bills, it’s time to step in and start helping. In the process, look at what they’ve been doing with expenditures to see patterns.
  2. If you see irregularities, and you are the appointed person on the DPOA, take action to protect your aging loved one. Collect data and communicate in writing, using the data, to put banks and financial institutions on notice that the elder appears to be targeted by an abusive other. The appointed agent usually has the authority on the DPOA to cut off access to funds the predator is trying to get. Cut them off.
  3. Note that exercising your authority on a DPOA can be tricky. Sometimes you need legal advice. Use a cautious and respectful approach to maximize your chances of success.

Comments are closed.