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Begin Financial Caregiver Planning

Financial order is essential for someone who's ill or disabled

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

Millions of people serve as financial caregivers for ill or elderly spouses, parents, children or other loved ones. They perform services that include paying bills, handling deposits and investments, filing insurance claims and preparing taxes.

Because this role can be costly and physically and emotionally exhausting, especially for a caregiver who lives far away or has the usual time demands, FDIC Consumer News offers some suggestions.

Preventive Measures

Consider taking these steps before someone becomes ill or disabled:

Make sure the family knows where to find personal and financial documents in an emergency. These include bank, brokerage and credit card statements; original wills; insurance policies; and Social Security, Medicare and pension records.

Think about the direct deposit of pay and benefit checks into bank accounts. Direct deposit is safer and more convenient than paper checks. There are no delays in getting money deposited, and no checks are lost or stolen in the mail or forgotten at home.

Consider automatic payment of important, recurring bills. You will have one fewer thing to worry about if you can arrange for utility bills as well as other regular commitments (like insurance and the mortgage) to be paid electronically out of your loved one’s checking account.

Try to make sure your elderly relatives are properly insured. If you have doubts about someone’s insurance coverage or ability to pay for long-term care, get a second opinion from a financial planner or an insurance agent you trust.

Consider a "durable power of attorney." This is a legal document giving one or more people the authority to handle finances or other personal matters if the individual becomes mentally or physically incapacitated.

Suggest a "living will" or other instructions about future medical care. Most people should have a living will specifying the type of medical care they want or don’t want if they become terminally ill and are unable to communicate their wishes.

Experts also recommend a "health care power of attorney" or "health care proxy" designating a family member or other trusted person to make decisions about medical treatment.

Living wills and health care proxies are intended to ensure that someone’s wishes regarding medical care are honored, but they can also prevent unnecessary and costly procedures.

After an Illness or Disability

The following should be on a family’s checklist after a serious health problem:

Get solid financial and legal advice from professionals you know and trust. Contact bankers, lawyers, accountants, insurance agents or financial planners your family has dealt with in the past. Ask how they’d recommend you deal with money matters and how they can assist.

Guard against frauds that target the vulnerable. Among the saddest and costliest issues facing families is fraud and theft committed against the disabled or elderly by unscrupulous relatives, contractors, caregivers, friends, neighbors or other individuals. These sinister acts cover a wide range of lies and deception, including cashing checks without permission and changing legal documents to give this other person rights to conduct transactions or take ownership of property.

"First, it helps to have a trusted family member who is in regular contact with a disabled or elderly relative and, if necessary, helps review bank and investment account statements to look for unusual activity," said Linda Ortega, an FDIC community affairs officer. "Beyond that, there are precautions to take, including arranging for direct deposit of Social Security or government payments, and making sure that checkbooks and credit cards are properly protected."

To learn more about how to avoid or report elder fraud, contact your state’s Adult Protective Services department.

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