Should you take over Mom’s checkbook?

Money matters are often intensely private. And no one wants to infringe on a family member’s independence. Yet it is through (sometimes expensive) financial mishaps that you may learn of changes in your parent’s memory and thinking.

Signs of a problem

Diseases that affect memory also tend to impair arithmetic skills and reasoning. That’s why money trouble can suggest the onset of dementia. Be alert for the following changes:

  • Difficulty counting change or balancing a checkbook
  • Frequent late payment of bills
  • Confusion about banking transactions
  • Unusual or repetitive purchases
  • Accusations that others are stealing from them
  • Investing in sweepstakes or other “get rich quick” schemes

Take action
If you notice a problem, ask the doctor to begin screening for dementia. But don’t wait to see if the symptoms progress before taking action.

Offer to help in a way that saves face. For example, “Gosh, it looks like the utility bill is overdue. You’ve got so many other things to do. You deserve to take a break. There are some easy ways to take some of these chores off your plate.”

If your relative is agreeable to it, a number of safeguards are available. For example:

  • Set up auto deposit of Social Security and other retirement income
  • Arrange for overdraft protection at the bank
  • Initiate auto payment of bills and/or third-party notification if a bill is not paid
  • Hire a licensed and insured bill payer
  • Consider a joint bank account (with online access for you)

If your relative refuses help or is fiercely secretive, you may want to

  • consult with his or her doctor. A doctor’s tests or stated clinical opinion may persuade your family member to accept assistance.
  • consult with a lawyer. If your relative is dangerously undermining his or her financial well-being, guardianship may be necessary.