Elderly Parents and Financial Worries

Parent Q&A

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  • I am considering ways I can help my elderly dad - should I help him pay his mortgage or should I consider buying the house or ?

    It's a little complicated. My wayward sibling pushed my parent into a reverse mortgage a few years ago. I just found out that this sibling did it a second time and increased the amount to 700k. But with the high rate of accumulated interest, my dad now owes almost 900k on his home worth just 1.3m to 1.5m (just 4 years ago he owed only 250k, which gives you some idea of what sibling has taken). And it's going up by almost 50k a year. Yes we are in contact with an attorney and maybe we can get his money back (any experience with elder financial abuse cases also welcome - for example lawyer vs using Adult Protective Services, civil vs criminal etc).

    But now my dad (and I) are freaking out at how quickly the reverse mortgage is accumulating. We are considering refinancing into a conventional loan which would require us to pay off the 900k reverse mortgage he owes and get a conventional loan for 900k. But is this a good idea? He's in his late 80s and was very healthy but now declining (thanks to the stress). That way at least his interest would be halved, and we would feel more in control of his home.

    From just casual searches, it looks like a 30 year loan for 900k would be about $4,300 per month but his total income is about 5.5k per month (although we could increase his distribution from his IRA). I could also contribute 1k per month but only as a loan, I can't afford to give the money away. Or is an adjustable better - and if so should we do a 3/1 or 5/1 or 7/1? The mortgage payment then goes down to 3.5k per month.

    I also wondered if I should buy his home and he could pay me rent - or is that not a good idea? I wouldn't mind owning the home after he passes on but I have heard there are tax complications with that. Or should we just sell it while he still has some equity left. If we wait a few years, plus agent fees, he'll have no equity left and will get nothing.

    Any thoughts from past experiences would be much welcome! Or great mortgage brokers who could help us understand. Or experience with Elder Financial Abuse.

    I can’t give financial advice but i recommend you get power of attorney for finances for your parents  to prevent your  sibling from using your dad’s home equity for cash. Where did the money from the reverse mortgage go? And NO balloon payment mortgages. They are a terrible trap. Good luck. 

    sorry you are dealing with this

    I think you should talk to an estate attorney as well. I'm not an expert, but my understanding is that if there is any chance you would want to move into the house, it's better to inherit it than transfer it now (bc of prop 13). And there may be capital gains issues too.

  • Hi, the time has come where my dad can't handle his bill paying. I have a POA and he is willing for me to do it. 

    The problem is that I live in another country and haven't lived in the States for over 20 years, back when things were done by mail using checks. I hoped for advice if I should do it or if I should hire someone and who/how much?

    If I do it, the questions are - how do people pay bills in the US these days? I assume I will need to set up access to his bank accounts, but what else? for example will I need to access his emails too in order to set up access (to confirm account, change password etc)? List of bills I need to look for? Program to use (I'd prefer laptop not phone app). Any tips or info would be appreciated. (I fly back to visit about 2x a year so will not be setting this all up from far).

    I would probably prefer to have a professional bill payer but I'm not sure if anyone would take on a small client, how to find someone affordable who is also trustworthy. Any recommendations or experience? I called the local council on aging and was recommended someone but she charged about $600 per month which my dad can't afford. He lives in Sunnyvale.

    We pay all our bills online these days. You will need access to you dad's online accounts, or set them up for him and set it to auto pay. The payments will be automatically deducted from the preferred bank account every month and you'll receive an email confirmation once the bill is paid. Most common bills are utility bills and credit card bills, there are also property tax bills if you dad owns his house. I use a program called 1password (password management app) where all my passwords are stored online. It's something to consider using so you don't have to remember multiple passwords for various accounts. 

    My partner is doing in for her MIL.  All bills are received and paid online, no need to write s check our send anything through the mail.  She's also has POA and has been doing it for years.  If for some reason the bank you dad banks with doesn't allow you to connect from the country you are living just get a VPN service, costs a few dollars a month.  Just set everything up for auto-pay WITH approval.  When the bills come in the bank will give you a list of what needs to be paid and you click, click, click to approve.  If there's an unknown charge it won't be paid.

    Other piece of advice I can give is protecting your dad against scammers.  The scammers are really good, take a look on YouTube so you know how the scammers are scamming older adults. What you might do is open a second bank account which only you have access to.  Hold all of the money in that account.  When dad needs some money you the bank's app to transfer the funds.  Takes less than a minute. 

    You could hire someone, but if you are willing to do it, you will do a much better job and have better oversight.

    Would it be possible to set up autopay and e bills for each of these accounts directly to your own bank account? That way you can just pay them automatically and then transfer money from your father's account as needed to reimburse the expenses.

    We set up bill paying using the online bill paying on our bank's website.  We set it up so that the bills pay automatically just before they are due.  You will need to determine if any paperless bills currently come to your parents email address. Also, you will need to fly to your parents home to find out which bills are coming to their mailbox.  After you have a list of paperless bills and bills that come to the mailbox, then you can set them up to pay automatically.  I don't recommend anyone else but you doing this.  I have done this for my mother-in-law. If you need more information feel free to contact me.

    I have almost all my bills paid automatically, either by being charged to my credit card (cable, internet, cell phone) or debited from my bank account (PG&E & EBMUD).   I even have my home/car insurance billed automatically once a year. It is very easy to set up autopay from his bank account if he gives you access to his bank account.  Non-recurring bills almost always have an option for paying online.  I would suggest having your dad add you as an additional cardholder to one of his credit cards so you could set up autopay to his card for monthly bills that will take credit cards, and for managing non-recurring bills.

    This should be so easy, especially these days with most everything being online. Without even having to invoke the POA, your parent can add you to their online accounts (give you the login and password or add you on their account as a trusted person to handle things) for everything you’ll need. You could do a joint phone call and call each vendor to set this up. Banks might require something more (the POA in that case). I did this with my grandmother and now do it for my MIL. Make sure all bills are electronic/not paper and input your email instead of his so they are sent to your email address, use auto pay for those you can do that for, and if bills any slip through via snail mail, your parent can take a picture and email it to you for payment. 

    This is actually a pretty simple thing to do yourself, after some setup. First, work with your dad to make a list of all the bills he has to pay each month. Then:

    1) create, or get his usernames and passwords for, online accounts for each of the companies he pays, such as mortgage, utilities, credit cards and so on.

    2) get his usernames and passwords for email addresses, credit cards and bank accounts.

    It should make it easier to get 1 and 2 by dialing into his computer and sharing the screen with zoom or teamviewer. Do not have him email you any of these. Another option is simply for him to give them to you on the phone,

    Once you have access to all of this, you can set thing up to receive all his bills:

    1) first, change everything possible to paperless billing with you as the email recipient. In many cases you can have more than one recipient, so your Dad can get it too. 
    2) many banks have the ability to receive bills directly to your account, as well. 

    Finally, you can automate payment several ways:

    for utilities, have them billed directly to a credit card.

    For mortgage, rent, health insurance or other fixed bills you can’t pay with a credit card, have it automatically paid each month using the online bill pay service of his bank. Check the paperless bills monthly to be sure they got paid and that amounts did not change.

    Then simply check and pay the credit card bills each month using online bill pay and you should be good to go. You can also have these automatically paid from his bank account, but I advise checking the bills first to be sure he didn’t get scammed or the card stolen or something, 

    Also make a list of intermittent bills like property tax, estimated tax and others where you won’t get an email bill but you know the date they are due so you can pay online when the time comes. It’s easy to pay all taxes online.

    If he has household help like a gardener or cleaner, have them send bills to you and pay them via online bill pay.

    Bottom line is that pretty much everything can be done online these days. Can’t remember the last time I wrote a check. 


    once you 

    You should be able to do everything online.  Set up shared bank accounts (I added my name to my mom’s account when I did this for her; she had to sign of course).  Using bill pay from your shared bank account shouldn’t be either time consuming or difficult.  Make sure the bills are coming to a shared email, and off you go.  My moms bills were pretty steady at that point in her life (housing, utilities, newspaper, cable, one credit card) and I imagine most older folks’ are as well. I wouldn’t think you need to hire someone, just gather up all the info and make sure you’re seeing the bills, then pay electronically. Good luck.  


    I performed this service for my mother (Vermont & Florida banks) and years later for my stepfather (Florida and Minnesota banks). They have both since passed. 
    My mother had set up on-line billpay for all her accounts and had email notification for everything. So that was easy to take over and I just used her existing passcodes for everything. Her social security and IRA distributions were auto-deposited.

    Working with my step-father was a more difficult transition as he both had dementia and denied he wasn’t taking care of everything. He could talk like he was on top of energy thing but wasn’t. His electric power was cut off twice for nonpayment before I stepped in. I was POA but in Florida a POA cannot do online banking for someone. Only check writing. That was super inconvenient! We moved him to assisted living memory care in MN to be near family and the banking system was more accommodating. I guess those POA rules are by state. We went in together to set up the account. I went to the bank the day before with the POA documents and questions. With a banker I basically set up the account with online banking and a debit card for me. When I brought my stepfather in he was treated like a VIP and signed here and there and we were done. He was happy to have a checkbook. 
    I had the toughest time with medical & hospital bills because they kept sending the bills to him. The medical billing systems were quite old-fashioned. 
    I changed all his billing addresses to mine in Berkeley and did his mail-forwarding from Florida to me as well. Together we did a change-of-address Holiday card for friends to his new MN address. (The worst part was getting his Tea Party and pro-Guns mailings.) An advantage of doing the bills was that when they each passed it was easier to tie up loose ends and I knew their financial situations well. I was executor, as well, for both of them. 
    I’m wishing you all the best with this significant transition. It was a pain AND I was also glad to have the additional connection with them and was relieved to know all was well financially. Mom’s been gone for 8 years and Dick for 1.5. I miss them! 

    Actually my wife handles all our bill payments, but this is what I think would be a good solution for your situation ( and it is how we do it):

    Does your father have a bank account in the US?   Is it a joint  account where you can make withdrawals? 

    Wells Fargo Bank in the US has this kind of setup and I suppose other banks do also:

    You can access the bank account on line with a password.  Using that password access you can set up periodic or one-time payments to people or companies using a feature called "Bill Pay."   This is good for such things as monthly credit card bills that vary from month to month.  You  don;t want to miss a payment and get charged a late fee, so you schedule an automatic payment from the account for a certain amount, and then before the payment is made, you change the amount to the exact amount due.  (for credit cards it is best to pay it off each month to avoid interest charges).    Other things like the electric bill, water bill, etc. you can pay more than a typical month each month  and run a credit and adjust it occasionally.

    As for what bills to consider, if he has been paying bills by check, and you have access to the bank account, you can see what payment she makes regularly and set up Bill Pay for each of the regular bills -- some come quarterly , others monthly, and maybe some are annual.  You schedule the payments and the amounts on line.

    I suggest you set up a joint bank account and then get on a three way zoom call with a banker and your father.  They should be able to walk you through the steps to set up automatic payments.

    I had to do the same for a relative who lives 3500 miles away. 
    1. Set up online banking for your dad’s checking account. 
    2. Set up an online account for each company that needs to be paid and set it up so the online statements are emailed to you. 
    3. Set up each monthly/reoccurring bill as an autopay from his checking account. Just make sure he has enough money in that account to pay all his bills each month. 
    4. For bills that are semi-annual or annual that can’t be paid automatically, put an alert on your calendar to remind you that the online statements are coming. Pay online via PayPal or Venmo or Zelle or if online payment not allowed, by check when you’re in town. 
    Good luck with this! It’s hard to be a caregiver from afar. 

    I think most (all?) banks offer an online bill-pay option through your checking account these days, without needing a separate program - so you'll need access to his email (like you said, to receive bills and confirmations as you set things up), and access to his bank account info to set up the account since it sounds like he's not already using online bill-pay. Once it's set up you should be able to pay bills through the bank website from wherever you are. You may also want to see how many of them you can set up for autopay (set it up through the provider, like PG&E, insurance company, etc.), if you're confident that there will always be sufficient funds in the account to cover them. That way the funds will automatically come out of a checking account or onto a credit card every month, and then you just have to pay the credit card bill and not all the individual bills. I've done this sort of service in the past for clients who were temporarily out of the country, sort of your situation in reverse. If you're looking to hire someone, look for a virtual assistant, they're more likely to take on a relatively small task like this than an accountant, and might be able to help with other remote tasks as well. Just make sure you get and check references!

    I do this for my grandmother who lives in Canada, and I help my friend who lives in France do this for her mom who lives in US.

    You can definitely do it, you don't need to pay someone. You need to get your email address listed on all his accounts and get him signed up for paperless billing, so that all the bills come to you. And you need online access to his bank account. You using his log in credentials does NOT work because they may want to do a two-step verification which will cause problems.

    It will be much easier to set up everything for the first time while you are in the US. All US banks have an online "bill pay" feature and the bank website should give directions on how to use it. So then you just log in and pay the bills. You can set up recurring payments too. The POA is not actually necessary but probably best to give/email a copy to each relevant institution so that if you do need to contact them, you can.

    And speaking of contacting folks, most credit cards, etc. have 800 numbers that don't work from outside the US. So you need to be sure you have a number to call for each entity.

    Once in a while you may run into a website that you cannot access from where you are.  You can use a VPN (virtual private network) to circumvent this. Astrill is one. https://www.astrill.com/a/z6yduvddpmmj But I doubt you will need this.

    As far as "list of bills" to look for; have your dad store up everything for a month till you come. Then, ideally there is someone near your dad who you trust who can take a photo of any new bills/tax statements that come in bc of course some things are not monthly. And as you go through the first year, you might want to set up calendar reminders for yourself (eg garbage bill may be quarterly, etc).

    Taxes are another issue. You should pay someone to file those but it can be any tax prep company (like HR Block or whatever; if he has already been paying someone to do his taxes then probably best to stick with that person/company since they will already know what's what). You will need to assemble all the documents (they start arriving in January and some you can find online, like retirement accounts, etc). And then the tax prep companies generally have an online portal to submit and since you have the POA, you can sign. There is a small fee but you can always ask them to file for an extension which gives you until 10/15. 

    And then to avoid elder abuse/fraud, you probably want to cancel all credit cards except one and monitor the charges (ie check each month to see what is being charged on it) and lower the amount that can be removed in one day via his debit card to $200 or whatever you and he think is a reasonable amount. 

    I took over bill paying and financial management for my elderly father over four years ago after the death of his wife, who had handled all the bills. I streamlined everything as much as possible. I set up one savings account and one checking account, on which I have power of attorney, so I can write checks when needed and gain access to the accounts. I set up one credit card account (with a card for me, too) for general purchases, His monthly assisted living bill and Kaiser Medicare bill are set up on auto pay. I order things from Amazon using our joint credit card, and have them delivered. It's very streamlined and easy to do. I don't think you need to hire someone. Most everything is handled electronically. Setting up the power of attorney on the bank account requires a notary, so that part needs to be done in person. If your dad needs or wants cash, you would need to do that for him when you visit. You can definitely do this. Just keep it simple and set up any bills on auto pay. Good luck!

    You should be able to do assist with most of your dad's bills remotely. Almost all bills can be paid either using a credit card or through your dad's bank (bill pay or equivalent). If you use the bank, you will need a routing and account number (printed on the check). I charge as much as possible on the credit card because there's more consumer protection in case your credit card or bank information gets stolen and used. I also set up alerts on my phone whenever I get a charge to my credit card or debit (bank) to ensure no unauthorized person is using it.  

    You would need the account numbers and an email address (to recieve the billing statements and let you know when payment is due) to swtich from paper/mail to electronic payments. They may also ask for other identifying information like DOB, SSN when setting up the online account.  

    The credit card and bank statements can be sent via email and accessed online as well. 

    List of normal bills: PG+E (electric, gas), Water and Garbage Company (name depends on your county), cable/internet/phone company, credit cards, subscription services for meal delivery/magazines, gym, fastrak (bridge toll), Amazon for shopping, HOA?

    Not sure what county your dad is in...but for SF county, the mortage bill comes in the regular mail. You can pay online though. 

    Mint is a helpful program that can link all of his accounts.

    Yes, you can do it all via laptop. You can either set up logins for his accounts under his name, or supply all of the accounts with the PoA and use your name/email.  I do this for my elderly mother. She can no longer pay bills or use a computer/email. For the bank accounts and her medical insurance, I have sent in the PoA and log in as myself. For the utilities, insurance, property tax, Comcast, etc, I have it in her name, but I’m still the one logging in.  I have everything on autopay except for her property taxes. It barely even takes a couple of hours every month.

    If you can get electronic access to the bank account that everything is paid out of, you can see what bills are being paid.  For instance I can click on my Mom’s statement and actually see a copy of her cleared checks.  

    Every so often I have to make a single payment for something and I just get the person’s or company’s name and address and set up a check to be mailed from her bank via electronic Bill Pay.  She does have a credit card that she uses for basic shopping.

    As someone who has gone through this transition in the past year with an elderly parent, I can share what worked for us:

    - Most U.S. bills can be paid online nowadays. If not already paid online, you can usually start online access with each company and the bill can be switched to online payment. The bill also can usually be set to autopay at a set date each month. If you're nervous about being hit by a large bill, you can pay manually until you feel comfortable with the pattern of bill payments. (Keep a list of the due dates).

    - Access to bank accounts can be through the parent's login credentials, at first, but most banks also allow for an additional person to be officially designated to login to the account. You may need to show POA at the bank for this access (depends on the bank).

    - For simplicity, you may want to run all of the bills through one bank account (if it's possible).

    - Keep everything organized on a spreadsheet. 

    Online bill payment is much easier than mailing checks (especially if you set it to auto-pay and run payments through 1 bank account, which you can monitor once a month). After the initial setup, it's not that much work. I haven't needed to hire someone else. Best of luck making this transition.

    If you set up automated payments, remember some bills only come once a year, such as the real estate tax.  You don't want to lose your property for being tax delinquent!

  • My husband's mom is 69 years old and extremely low income. That's not hyperbole...that's actually the income bracket that she is in on the social services eligibility charts (the lowest bracket). Over the past 2 months she has mentioned several times that she is down to her last $1K in her savings account, and that her monthly SS check (I believe approx $1100/month) is not enough to cover her monthly expenses including $800+ rent. For 7 years, I have been trying to encourage her to get on waiting lists for subsidized low income housing, but she does not want to live in a County or nonprofit-run building, so would only use a housing subsidy if she could get a Section 8 housing choice voucher. The waitlist for Section 8 vouchers in her County is closed because the wait list is too long, and has not been open to new applicants in years. The only way she can cover her expenses is to work part time as a caregiver for some of her senior neighbors. She broke her hip about a year ago and while recovering was unable to work for a short time. My husband and I and my own parents helped buy her groceries, etc. After that, I tried to sign her up for food stamps and for low income housing, but she never followed through with the final paperwork. She lives near us and is great with our 2 young kids who love her. We see her often, and when we do we always pay for her meals or pay her way when we go on vacations together. All this is fine, but what worries me is that she has a structural deficit in her finances, and if anything happens so that she cannot work (or even if she gets too old to work which seems likely to happen while she's in her 70s), she will not be able to afford her monthly expenses. I have asked her repeatedly what her plans are, and have gently prodded her and encouraged her to take advantage of the generous social safety net that she qualifies for. She brushes this off and says she just takes life as it comes. She is currently on a month long vacation driving across country to her hometown. She is traveling with friends and family who presumably will cover her costs. She says she will sign up for food stamps when she returns but not housing. When she returns I am prepared to tell her that I am not going to give her anymore financial assistance until she is living in (or on the waiting list for) subsidized low income housing. But I know that my husband is unable to make that same commitment. In the past she has used emotional manipulation (tearing up cards from him, threats of suicide) to make him feel as if he cannot say no to her, lest she might feel unloved by him. I think the best way to protect my kids and myself financially is to formally separate my finances from my husband's, so that he can give money to the mother he loves if he feels he needs to, but I can say "absolutely not, you cannot touch these pots of money that I have control over". We are moderate income ourselves and live paycheck to paycheck with only very small retirement saved so far. We do not own a house. I'd like to save so that I am not a burden on my own kids. I don't want to be cruel, but want to protect myself. The question is, what is the best way to do this logistically. we have always had joint accounts, so separating seem sounds logistically difficult to impossible. Anyone have advice on how to do this? Thank you!

    Hello, so sorry to hear about your MIL's situation.  One odd "blessing in disguise": should she ever need assisted living, she'll be eligible for Medicare to cover the costs (extremely high), since she is so low-income.  I hope things get better.

    California is a community property state, so you really can't legally separate your finances from your husband's while you are married. Everything you earn, he has a 50 percent interest in. Placing your earnings in a separate bank account won't change that, from a legal perspective. Of course, you could still open a separate account if you think that will help your husband *conceptually* to not dip into certain funds to rescue his mother. 

    I think this is primarily a marital problem between you and your husband. His primary allegiance and responsibility should be to you and your children, not enabling his self-destructive mother. He is ignoring your need and your childrens' need for financial responsibility, and that's not okay. His mother is an adult. She needs to be allowed to reach the crisis state that she is creating for herself. That is what she wishes for herself, or she would be making different choices. Your children are not adults and need to be protected and guided by adults acting responsibly and in their best interest. Your husband is neglecting that duty. Have you tried marriage counseling for this issue? Honestly, if I were in this position and it couldn't be resolved through counseling, I would consider divorce to protect my own and my childrens' financial wellbeing. 

    So your MIL refused to plan ahead, saying she wants to "take things as they come." But then she turns to emotional manipulation to deal with the consequences of her inaction.

    I would consult a family law attorney. You have a compelling need to separate your finances from your husbands, and the only way to get there is with a properly executed marital agreement (a post-nup, if there is such a thing). This will have the added benefit of making it crystal clear to your husband that you personally will not accede to your MIL's manipulation. He can, if he chooses to. After all, he's a grown-up. But if he does, it's on his dime.

    Time for tough love all around.

    Being married means your finances are mingled. You could divorce, but still live together and still keep the relationship you have now. That would allow you to have completely separate finances. Or you could get a post-nuptial agreement. Either one of those could allow him to say to him mother that he simply doesn't have the money to spend. 

    Wow, lots of issues.  Your attempt to set some boundaries is entirely reasonable but you're not dealing with reasonable people. 

    You can easily set up an account without your husband's name on it and transfer money into it.  But it's a REALLY short-term solution, not very practical (if something happens to you, how can he access the account?).  He can always find ways to get money to mom (credit cards, etc.) so any sense of security it gives you is bogus.  And California is a community property state--his debts and expenses are yours.

    I fear for you just reading this.  Husband who can't say no to mom, even at the cost of his children's welfare?  Mother manipulator who threatens suicide and won't sign up for support she qualifies for?  That is a series of catastrophes waiting to happen.  A separate bank account is just a bandage on the core issues.  Yes, her little games can sink you both financially, it certainly happened in my family.

    Your husband needs to get his priorities straight, which probably means therapy and some education on the realities of elder-care; he's only making the problem worse for her.  Yes, you will need to be the hard-ass, which will not be pleasant.  You all need to understand that loving someone doesn't mean enabling.  You probably both need some legal advice, but that's only useful once your husband understands that all he is doing is hurting your kids, not helping his mom.  I recommend you contact Family Caregiver Alliance with this complex issue, and also see if you can get any help from Adult Protective Services or any other senior services for help in convincing mom to wake up and smell the coffee.

    If Mom threatens suicide, neither you nor your husband can safely say if this is an empty threat.  Call 911 and/or the police and insist they send someone immediately.  She either needs treatment for self-harm/suicidality or she needs to learn to quit that form of manipulation.

    I don't usually say this, but God bless.  Addressing issues like these is incredibly painful, but essential for the health and well-being of your family.

    Yikes.  So to boil it down, you are suggesting that you separate from your husband because he wants to help his mom with her living expenses.  Legally, you and he are not obligated to assist her.  But ethically and morally, I think you do.   I would try to be more sympathetic to her.  She suffered a broken hip and loves your two kids.  She's low income but a lot of people around the Bay Area fall into that category.  Perhaps she needs more of your assistance, more than just purchasing the occasional groceries and vacation.  Help her find a less expensive place for her to live.  Help her apply for food stamps and find a part time job.  Perhaps she could move in with you and your husband and help with babysitting and taking care of the house?  What would happen if she were unable to pay her rent and was evicted?  Her son would have no choice but to help her and as his wife, you have to support that.  There is a problem her that needs to be discussed with all of you and work through it.  It's a burden, yes, but one that requires you to do something to help her.

    You might want to reframe your MIL's situation a bit. Like many people in the Bay Area, she is low-income. However, she worked enough to get Social Security, and is doing her best to keep working part-time after a serious injury, and at an age most people are retired. From what you say she is also cognitively intact which is not something that can be taken for granted. You also do not mention any indication of substance-abuse, or mental health issues aside from depression. Info on hip fractures: "Women ages 65–69 who break a hip are five times more likely to die within a year than women of the same age who don’t break a hip, according to a Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published online today in the Archives of Internal Medicine."  Another article: https://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/news/20000208/fate-worse-than-death-…

    To continue reframing – She and your children have a good relationship, and it seems that most of the time she and your husband have a good relationship. Connection to a grandparent is a protective factor for children. Also, how you behave with her will model for your children how to behave with you when you are elderly.

    To move forward from here it might be a good idea to get help from the Family Caregiver's Alliance, or Jewish Family Services (they help people from all cultures – we used them in another state to help with challenging elder-care issues.) Many elders needs hands-on assistance to navigate the complexities of our (not-so-generous) social welfare system. She's facing a number of challenges, and as family, her son does have some obligation to help her work through them.

    I have first-hand experience with this. I am the safety net for my mother and my brother, neither of whom have any financial resources at all (my brother, who has just turned 60, won't even qualify for SS because he has been an artist/pot grower his whole life and never reported income.)  Both of them have repeatedly made terrible decisions over a span of many decades.  They really are just incapable of taking care of themselves.  Here's my advice. 1. Don't let this wreck your marriage. Both of you need to join together to figure out a solution because your MIL is probably going to be around for a couple more decades.  2. Do the research and find subsidized housing for her.  If that means she has to move to a different city, figure out how to convince her to do that. When my mom was in her late 60's and practically destitute I heard about a subsidized apt. complex in Berkeley and got her on the waiting list. She was on the list for 3 years before a spot opened, and she didn't want to move to Berkeley, didn't want to live with old people, was a no-show for the interview and had to wait another 6 months for a spot, etc. etc. But she had few other options and eventually agreed. She's been there for 20 years now and loves it. Rent is pegged to a percentage of her SS income, so she can pay all her bills. California Medi-cal is AWESOME. She gets an in-home helper, a cell phone, taxi scrip, good medical insurance. You have to try to get your MIL to the point where she can live on her SS.  3. When they ask for money, here's what I do.  My mother doesn't need me to help anymore, because she can now live within her means, but my brother often needs help. Last year, after I gave him rent money for the second month in a row, I told him I would only help if he signs up for Medi-cal, food stamps, and gets on a list for subsidized housing (he currently lives illegally in a cheap office space near Monterey.) He immediately got the  food stamps and Medi-cal (TG because he had a bicycle accident the next month) but he has been making lame excuses about the housing - they don't answer the phone, it's hard to get to their office, he has to wait a long time, etc. I remind him weekly he needs to do this, and that I will help with rent if he does.  Last week he asked me for a "loan" again, and I told him I'd send him a Safeway card so he can eat but I'm not paying rent until he gets on a list for housing. This is the only thing that motivates him to plan for his future.  BTW I do not recommend handing over cash. Instead pay specific bills directly to the landlord or PG&E, buy Safeway cards, have the phone bill sent to your address, things like that.  It really is in your MIL's best interest to do something like this because she's coming up on a time when there will be more illnesses and she can't work.  You will probably have to do the footwork to figure out what her options are and then take action to get her signed up. 

    Best wishes to you. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions Related Pages

Funding options for elderly widow on a fixed income

Jan 2012

My partner's mother is in a financial predicament in terms of being able to afford senior housing. She is currently living on social security benefits of about $1,200 and can no longer afford to live on her own without aid. Senior housing/assisted living is essential as she is not independent and does not drive. Her husband was a military veteran and I suspect there might be options for veteran's aid, as well. If you know of any options to help pay for retirement living on a limited fixed income I'd greatly appreciate your advice. Thank you. anon

Have you checked out the nonprofit affordable housing for seniors in your area? They will limit her rent to a maximum of 30% of her income if she qualifies.

There aren't great comprehensive lists of senior housing, but you can start with:


As far as veterans benefits are concerned, call your county's County Veterans Service Office. They will do the research and paperwork to see if she is eligible for any benefits. The clock starts ticking when the application is made, and if benefits are due they are made retroactive to the application date. In my experience these people are fabulous. Good luck to your family

81 yr old dad needs assisted living, has no money

Oct 2011

My dad is living independently, very badly, in Sonoma with his wife. The short story is that he has partial dementia, parkinson's, stage 2 diabetes, radioculopathy and peripheral neuropathy and it is absolutely no longer safe for him to not have assistance. They are in denial (dementia, i get it), they live off of their social security only, and have 100k in dept and no assets whatsoever. Their house is in disarray, the don't drink enough water, they don't eat enough nutritionally dense food and they stopped their meals on wheels delivery because they hated the food and were ''embarrassed''. My dad goes to the ER about once a week for a variety of issues...usually ends up being dehydration or over or under medication for his blood sugar. Having been many times with him to the ER, I also suspect he enjoys the attention...not kidding.

My step mother, whom I love, is sweet and well intentioned, but she is 80 and has her own ailments (slow onset Parkinson's, mild dementia) and can not care for my dad alone, though she insists that she can. I have given them 40K of my own money over the last 4 years, tons of my time, and have no other financial resources of my own to draw on as my own family is paycheck to paycheck currently. My husband and i both work full time and have a 2 year old daughter...we live over an hour from my dad.

I took a month of unpaid time off last November to just trouble shoot and put out a variety of fires for them...barely made a dent in things. I realize now that I should have done Paid Family Leave to get a little money, I'll do that next time.

I have been struggling to fill out VA Aid and Attendance application over the last many months for him, their paperwork is not in any kind of order and i have sent out for copies of important required documentation for this application.... and it is not complete (if you have done this application, you know how convoluted it is), but i am sending it in AS IS this week to just get it in the works and dated for retroactive funds should he be awarded the benefit in the future.

My dad was NOT an awesome father, very challenging emotionally to love and care for him now, and subsequently my two older brothers have refused to help in any way...one hasn't spoken to me in 2 years because he didn't want to help care for dad, and we used to be best friends.

I am on my own here. Has anyone been in a similar situation? What are my dad's options with only 1600.00 per month in social security? State run home? VA hospital? I have all the websites for council on aging etc. , I guess I am just looking for a secret bullet or pearl of wisdom that one of you may have if you have dealt with anything similar.

Thank you so much for any thoughts.

In my experience with my own father, the VA is a very good option, if you can get through the paperwork. The process of documenting his eligibility for benefits is a chore and takes a lot of determination and know-how for handling confusing and often contradictory bureaucratic nonsense. But it's well worth the effort.

My father attended a day-care program for several years where a VA aide arrived in the morning, helped him bathe and get dressed (mild dementia, able to do things with assistance but too much for my mother to handle), then drove him to the program where he spent the day in social and therapeutic activities. He was dropped back home at the end of the day and a meal was prepared for him. The aide was wonderful and also took him shopping and on other special outings, and sometimes stayed overnight so my mother could go out of town. As his condition deteriorated, we were planning to get him on the list for residential care, but he passed away unexpectedly before then. His time in the VA program was definitely the highlight of his last few years -- he really enjoyed swapping war stories with the other old vets.

This was in another state, so I'm not familiar with the people and places you need to deal with in California. But since it is a federal program, I'm sure the same type of services are available here.

I sympathize with what you're going through. Hope this info helps. -A daughter

Dear Lisa,

I wish I had some advice to offer; I will leave that to others. But I just want to write and commend you for being such a caring, loving daughter, trying so hard to help your aging dad and step-mom. It's tough. I hope you get some great advice from this list. warm wishes Linda

Go to your county Veteran Service Officer (VSO)or go to the VA clinic in Martinez or Oakland. They will help you fill out forms and let you know what options you dad has. Bring his DD214 if you can find it. It has information like when he served, etc. If you cannot find it, go anyway and get some information. Ask for anything you think he needs. If you don't ask, they will not offer! Best of luck. Linda

My mother-in-law was able to get an older relative with little income into a very nice home care facility, and they accepted her SS and her Medicare - might be worth a look. It was run by a Filipino family and there were maybe 5 or 6 residents that they cared for, all with various medical problems that made it so they couldn't live at home any more, and all of them were low income.

I also volunteered with Legal Assistance for Seniors a few years back -- they have a health care advocacy program that might be helpful, especially if you're in Alameda County and wanting to move them closer to you (which would be a lot easier for you if you get them into care). Here's a link to their website:

http://www.lashicap.org/services/health-insurance- counseling-and-advocacy-program Hope that Helps

Your dad would be eligible for a Medicare-paid assisted living spot, if he truly has NO other assets (they will look). He has to ''spend down'' his assets to become eligible, but it sounds like he might already be there. The hard part is finding a home that has a Medicare ''slot'', but it can be done. It sounds like he definitely needs to be there. Best of luck Been there

not much advice for you except to tap the hospital resources. they know him as he is a ''frequent flyer'' maybe their social services could help you. You should also look into becoming his durable power of attorney, if possible, if his demetia isn't advanced enough to render him mentally incapacitated yet. anon

It' so hard when the relationships are fraught, isn't it? We want to do our best, we want others to agree that we have done the right thing... But what is their plan? They have one, whether or not they have articulated it to you. Naturally everyone wants to be as independent as possible. And I salute you for being an excellent daughter; you've already done a lot. I think what sometimes happens is that we get so accustomed to mothering, to being the authority, to having to figure out what will work for our young ones, that we come in, pistols blazing, to rescue our elders and set something up for them. Yes, that would take it off your plate, it would be beyond reproach, and yes, they do need help. What is THEIR plan? how do they see the next few years? **If you did nothing, what would happen?** Maybe rather than mothering them, you could think about grandmothering them, taking them a treat, expressing concern, spending time doing little physical things that would please them, or washing dishes or doing a load of laundry. I guess the question is: who are you doing it for? Maybe they don't want to live forever in Assisted Living. Are you ready for their answer?

First I want to say: you are being a very good daughter. I have been in a similar situation, and it can be very hard to give at one end, when you didn't receive much at the other end. Second, as a medical social worker I see this type of problem often, and in my role I am frequently the only person trying to help as family are either non-existent, or long alienated. I have come to rely upon the wonderful services of senior care managers. One I recommend in particular is Yvonne Baginski. She knows all the ropes, including the VA stuff, and can take the lead, or just help, depending upon your need. She can do as little as educate you on the options, and help with expediting applications, or as much as getting power of attorney for health care, and/or finance; she also has a gift for developing rapport with older folks, and I've seen her work wonders with some of the most crochety, mildly paranoid, mildly to moderately demented persons around. She also publishes the Born to Age senior services catalogue/newsletter, which can be enlightening. Here's her contact info: Born To Age P.O. Box 6863 Napa, CA 94581 707-226-7127 and here's the link to Born to Age, you'll need to select the county: http://www.borntoage.com/home/born-to-age- senior-information-directory/

Best of luck, and remember, 1- they are grown-ups, and have the responsibility to have made their own plans, and arrangements, so don't run yourself ragged, and 2-anything you do to help is better than they would be doing on their own at this point, so don't beat your head against a wall if they aren't able to muster some cooperation, or show gratitude... Been there as a daughter, done that as a social worker

My father is mis-managing his finances, can't pay for his meds

July 2011

I need specific advice about managing my father's finances. I would be so grateful for any of your experiences with this type of issue. Here's our problem followed by the general situation:

I just found out that my dad has maxed out his credit card, which is how he usually pays for his medications. (I had a baby this year and turned dad-care over to my brother, who dropped the ball.) Now we are in crisis mode and need to devise a new way to pay for meds, gas for his car, etc.

Any specific advice (pay as you go debit card, meds by mail??) and your experiences and ideas about how we might replace a credit card with another form of paying for things? (Unfortunately there are no good elder care consultants, etc in his area, so just tapping another person to handle this will not work.

General Situation: My dad is a 62 year old stroke survivor, very independent, but lacks the cognitive abilities to make sound decisions. He lives in Georgia with his very old mother and is cared for by two aides. My brother lives closer to my dad and has a pretty expansive power of attorney. My dad has an accountant who cuts checks for him, but does not monitor spending in any way. He has a fixed income which should be *just barely* enough to pay for his needs.

Thanks so much for your ideas. My dad is a wonderful person but it's basically like having a twelve year old with a bank account and credit line, and it's getting terrifying. Sandwich Generation at age 35

A friend recently forwarded me an article about the outrageous mark ups of prescription drugs and pointed out that Costco is your best bet with fair prices and low mark up resulting in savings of 50% or more. If you can arrange to get the drugs mailed to him by you or from Costco directly that would help resolve the drug expense.

I would eliminate the credit cards completely as they pose way too much risk of his getting into serious trouble. I also worry about the brother with power of attorney who dropped the ball. Perhaps he would pass the role on to you or at least let you handle the financial matters. With a fixed income it shouldn't be too hard to control what is made available to your dad to spend. Maybe your dad should be working with a checking account and cash only. You can set up the checking account (Wells Fargo) with an automatic alert to you if it is overdrawn. Your idea of a debit card tied to the same account and alert might be an option. A friend who cared for his parents into their 90s with Alzheimer's eventually had to remove all cash, credit cards, and checks from their possession. It is just a matter of when.

I also wondered if you could hire one of the 2 caregivers already on the scene to handle some of the financial oversight with your dad for a fee. A bank might be able to set up a trust fund that receives his monthly checks by direct deposit and funds his debit card. Hope that helps. sympathetic

Elderly parents in Sonoma on the verge of bankrupcy

August 2010

Hi there,

My dad and his wife are in their early eighties and barely holding onto independent living. I am the only support they have emotionally and financially (my brothers are now estranged from me because they don't want to help). I have my own financial challenges, so I am trying to figure out how to help them and not hurt myself and my husband and children. They are on the verge of being bankrupt and homeless. Their health is ''fair''.

Their only income is from their social security checks,they have no retirement accounts and they are spending beyond what they have even though they say they are ''trying''. They have been pawning jewelry to get by, but there now is no jewelry left. I have tried to assist in various ways, but it is hard to get information from them, they are holding on fiercely to their independence and it is clear to me that we need an unbiased party to come in and help. Instead of, or in addition to, giving them money each month, I'd rather spend money on a few hours each month on a thoughtful ''elder experienced'' bookkeeper to handle their bills and help them learn how to live within a budget.

Does anyone have any Sonoma County specific referrals of someone who has done this for you or a loved one? Thanks so very much for any information. Best, Lisa

Have you contacted Sonoma County Adult and Aging services? They were a huge help for a neighbor a while back in a similar situation. They have lots of resources, and experience with older folks dealing with similar issues. Sue

If your parents own their home, a reverse mortgage may be worth consideration. If they do not own their own home, they may consider senior apartments (HUD sponsored) the rent for which is based upon a fraction of their monthly income-often 1/3 or so. Does Sonoma county or their city have 211? as the city of Berkeley does. From the helpful personell one can obtain a list of senior residences or perhaps even social workers? Good luck. Lynn

Mother-in-law in deep financial trouble

Feb 2010

My mother-in-law has had financial worries most of her life after divorcing my husband's father when the kids were small. She received generous alimony and child support, and she worked but has always managed her money poorly. My husband and his two siblings have always given her money when they could. She even asked for my husband's bar mitzvah money when he was 13, and he handed it over. Several years ago she opened a credit card account in a relative's name without him knowing it. When the relative realized what had happened, he was very kind about it and forgave my mother-in-law and didn't even make her pay him back. She is now in her mid-70s and retired. She receives a small pension from a government job, but invested her nest egg unwisely and lost it all. She is vague about her finances but it sounds as if she is living on only $2,000.00/month and her rent is nearly half that. Her car is close to breaking down. My husband and I and his siblings want to help her; however, we are all struggling ourselves in this economy. She is difficult to live with and probably wouldn't want to move in with any of us anyway. Does anyone out there have any suggestions? Obviously, she is irresponsible with money, but no one wants to see her continue in this difficult fashion. Where do we start? Is there decent low- income housing for seniors out there? What types of professionals and organizations should we contact to help us extend a lifeline to her? How to help???

Yes, the senior subsidized housing is all over. What geographic area? In east bay contact Senior Satellite Housing for details - Alameda County- seniors pay about 1/3 of income for rent of small independent apartment in senior bldg. In area call ''211'' for more referrals.

There are money management agencies- Bay Area Community Services (BACS) has had one for a long time. Again, call ''211'' for info or go on-line, google to ''area agency on aging'' and add county of residence- this is comprehensive senior services referral list. Even stopping by her local senior center and talking to the director can be very helpful. I did the latter when looking for home care agencies for my mom to try to keep her in her own place. There may be a small monthly fee. There are support groups for family caregivers which can be very informative- I facilitate the free drop-in group in North Oakland at BACS program - call Roberta Tracy for details -510-601-1074 caring about and watching out for your mom-in-law can be an on-going endeavor esp. if she doesn't think there is a problem- www.caregiver.org Good Luck Monica

It sounds like your mother could benefit from some outside help. I know the Jewish Federation (I am assuming she is jewish because your she asked your husband for his bar mitzvah money) has organizations which help senior citizens locally in need with meals, counseling etc. I'm certain the Federation has an east bay office otherwise check San Francisco or Palo Alto. Look at their website and make some calls. They will definitely be able to point you in the right direction. It takes a community

Taking over my mom's finances - Attorney or Financial Advisor?

August 2009

We are not quite sure which to consult regarding this...my mother will be moving into assisted living and I will be needing to make some decisions about her house, car, finances, etc. I am already her Power of Attorney, so that is not an issue. She is also still moderately able to make some choices with support, though I fear soon she won't due to dementia. What we are not sure about are things regarding her accounts and money, I am already on all of her accounts and have access to them. We may want to rent out her house, rather than sell, so need someone to help understand if this all needs to be transferred to me, or what is more financially sensible for both her and us. Home improvements will need to be made, rental income will come in, etc...I feel like an attorney would have better legal information, but a financial advisor could help us make better financial choices. Are there people out there who do both?? Any recommendations would be helpful.

(Full Disclosure: I'm a professional financial planner.) You definitely want a lawyer for legal advice and I believe you want a financial advisor for the financial advice. Given the huge breadth of knowledge in each field, it would be exceedingly rare to find an individual well qualified to advise in both arenas. Hope that helps. Feel free to email me if you'd like to discuss the financial side in more detail. John

I am in a situation similar to yours. I haven't used an attorney yet. I am working with a CPA, he is invaluable. Financial Advisor? Find your parent's one and talk to them to get info about their investments but otherwise I would be weary of them. But you sound like you need an attorney, one who specializes in asset protection. Attorneys are expensive, and there is some stuff that you can and should do yourself. For example: You say you have ''access'' to your mother's accounts. Ok, do you mean you've gone and sat down at the bank/investment firm/credit card companies and have them acknowledge your POA? If not you need to contact each and every entity now and have them do so. You're going to need a lot of copies of that POA, and sign affidavits to establish that to the best of your knowledge, the POA is in full effect. Also, the IRS, Social Security and the VA do not recognize POA. If at all possible, have your mom sign the IRS-2848 form (your CPA will tell you more about this)and give you the authority to handle her tax issues. Go to the SSA and apply to be a Representative Payee. So two ppl you need. A good CPA, and an attorney. And good luck. Good Luck

Retired parents are financially irresponsible

August 2008

My parents retired this year- dad at 55 & my mom at 50. The problem is that my parents are terribly financially irresponsible & they respond very negatively to any discussion about it. Hence my mom retiring at 50 instead of 55 & losing major retirement $ and benefits because of it as just one example. We are at the point of just wanting to know info and trying very hard to NOT give the impression we are passing judgment or being anything other than supportive- otherwise they won't talk at all. I know they don't have enough in their retirement to last even 10 years at this rate, that they are on a very limited budget that they don't stick to, & that they do not consider 2nd careers.

My husband & I are decently educated on financial issues- we helped my husband's mom retire responsibly. We have tried to approach my parents in many different ways to no avail. Since they retired this year, they have no financial planner and adamantly don't want one, drawn from their retirement to pay off MAJOR credit card debt, have taken costly trips, & want to buy a larger, more expensive home for the two of them. They also continue to make big, frivolous purchases on credit cards & veer from a monthly budget.

What is most troubling to my husband and I is that they have no regard for their health & lie about it when asked. I accidentally found out my mom is on pre-diabetic medication & both of them are very possibly being treated for heart disease related issues. (They eat fast food everyday & are sedentary). They obviously can't or choose not to see how their actions effect our family (us & them). My son is close with them and I am beginning to worry that -in the immediate- one of them will have a heart attack or stroke while he or our newborn is in their care. In the long term, we are VERY concerned about what their behavior will do to them & us financially. We don't know what to do, don't want to be preachy, but feel that we need to intervene.

They seem to think they are invincible in both health and finance & that their actions don't effect anyone else. We love them a lot, but are concerned they will end up destitute and/ or we will be financially responsible for caring for them and we just cannot afford it- along with all of our other sad concerns. Has anyone else been in this situation? What can we do? Worried

I don't know if you realize this but the following came through loud and clear in your posting: 1. Your family is dysfunctional. 2. You need family counseling. 3. Your parents obviously retired and are ''living it up'' because on some level they think they are not going to live too much longer.

As for #3, I want to say they have a right to choose how they want to live out the rest of their life. They've earned it, getting to their age. But on the other hand, I know it is hard for you to watch. If you don't feel comfortable having them watch your kids, then don't leave your kids with them. Hire a professional babysitter and be there when your kids visit their grandparents.

As for the financial part, I personally don't think parents take advice of any sort well from their children. Give it up! If you can't get them to go to a therapist with you all, I think you and your husband should seek out counseling to find the best way to deal with this situation. So sorry you have to deal with this. I know it's painful. anonymous member of BPN

You sound like a very concerned and caring couple but you must realize - your parents are ADULTS and at 55 and 50, they have every right to make their own plans, as foolish as they may be or may seem to you. As someone in their age bracket, my perspective is that they may be facing health problems and feel this is their last chance to finally enjoy themselves without work responsiblities before they get too old or too infirm. When you nag and act like you think they can't manage their own affairs it breeds resentment, which doesn't help anyone. If they are making a big financial mistake, my advice would be to sit on the sidelines and keep your own purse locked. You don't have to bail them out if you don't want to or are not able to, and that doesn't make you a bad or ungrateful child. You can offer emotional support without financial support. Meanwhile, worrying that they might become ill while caring for your kids is letting your fears get the better of you. Meditate and let it go! Sue

I'd say let them go about their lives and, perhaps, learn from their own mistakes. You are not responsible for them and they will have to come to terms with their reality when (and if) it smacks them in the face. I would let them know your concerns and tell them that you will not be there to pick up the financial pieces for them. In the meantime, you're learning a good lesson -- and you've given one to many of us BPN readers as well. -We are not our parents' keepers.

I mentioned this to my financial planner sister. She had one concrete suggestion that didn't come up in the previous responses: Buy a long term care policy for your parents. At their ages it won't be impossibly expensive. It will keep their choices from bankrupting you if worse comes to worst. Up to a certain point, you can (should) say ''You made your bed, now you have to lie in it''--Tiny apartment? Too bad. No vacations? Maybe you should have thought about that back when you had money. But that only works up to a point-- When they are ill and destitute, you will have to step in. So if you don't want to have them living with you, if you don't want the risk of devastating health care costs, insurance could be a big help. Carrie

Wow, I am surprised by the responses that you got! It seems like they were all from people in your parents' age bracket who said to mind your own business and let them squander any money or health that they have left. Like you can really sit back and let that happen without trying to steer them another way! I feel like people our parents age are in denial of getting older. You can tell by the commercials catering to the baby boomers on TV...viva viagra, older ameritrade commercials, reverse mortgages, etc. Everything is telling them that they're in their golden years and to live it up...spend...spend...spend!

I am sure that it is hard for your parents to listen to advice from their children. There has to be a way to approach it so that they will see that you're looking out for their best interest/their comfort? It sounds like their independence is important to them. Maybe stress that you'd like to find a way for them to continue to live independently in the lifestyle they prefer and that at the rate they're going they won't be able to?

My parents are likely worse than yours financially and I certainly haven't found a way yet (sorry). The underlying tone here is that you sound like you don't want to have to take care of them financially. Maybe they are getting that vibe from you as well and it's making them resentful? I am sure that they don't expect you to now (and are in denial that they'll need you to later). Rememeber though, they took care of you, and in most cultures throughout the world children take care of their parents when they age. I would do my best to advise them to get part-time (or FULL time) jobs and to make a budget. They could get part time retail jobs which would help keep them out and about, keep their minds sharp, and add some $ to their pockets. I would also recommend that you start to accept that you may need to help them financially in the end. It will likely cramp their style as much as yours. Empathizing with You