The second most important task of things to do after your loved one has received a diagnosis of dementia has to do with handling their financial affairs, specifically their money management at the bank.
(This is the second in the series of the 19 most important things you should do after your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia. See this blog post to find out what the first suggestion was.)
the check that almost was
An almost double payment is what led to money management being listed as one of the most important things to take care of when you have someone that has dementia. It was my niece that brought this concern to my attention.
My mom apparently wanted to send my niece a check. (Mom had decided that she wanted to send each grandchild a check when they graduated college.) However, my niece had already received her check from Grammie.
Now this all occurred before I had moved back home to live with Mom. The weekend after my niece notified me about this, I went home and working with Mom, got her all straightened out on which grandchild had received their money and who still needed theirs.
mistakes in the checkbook register
It wasn’t long after this occurred that I made the decision to move back home to live with Mom. This was just another signal telling me it was time.
When Mom and I went through her checkbook register to confirm the payment to my niece, it was obvious to me that Mom was having difficulty maintaining the checkbook. The items that you normally put in the register when you write a check were often missing. There were times when she would forget to write the check number, the date, the amount, or the payee. As noted in the bottom picture below, more check entries were scratched out and more voids were noted. I recall Mom telling me she had more trouble spelling and forming the letters. (The top picture would have been prior to the joint checking account. The bottom picture was of her smaller checking account. Check #50 is in my handwriting – that was probably one that I helped her write.)
I knew that it was time for us to make a trip to her bank and make some money management changes.
Importance of the checkbook
Before I tell you about the bank, I want to give you some back history which influenced what we did at the bank.
My mom long ago had created what she called her Bob’s Olio which was kind of like her diary where she would occasionally record her thoughts. One of her entries had to do with things she’d never had and one of those items was a checkbook – she never had an account of her own to pay bills. Like most couples of their generation the husband was the one that kept track of the bills and wrote the checks.
So I knew that keeping a checkbook mattered to Mom and once Dad passed she took over the bill paying and up until this incident handled it well.
how we set up the bank accounts
Go with your loved one to the bank and discuss with the personal banker the best way to set up accounts. You want to be on the account(s) as well and you want to be noted as the “authorized representative” in case you have to contact the bank if there is a problem such as a credit card charge that neither of you made.
There are different types of joint checking accounts so be sure to discuss which would be appropriate. You will want to be able to continue paying bills if your loved one is hospitalized or enters assisted living/memory care and any bills that come along after your loved one passes.
Getting back to the note about Mom and her checkbook, I knew that I couldn’t just completely take the financial end of things away from her. You do want your loved one to retain their dignity. They already have the feeling that something is off and you don’t want them to feel completely worthless.
So here’s what we did. We set up 2 checking accounts with both our names on them. That way one account could be the bigger or the main account to pay the bills from. That was the one I kept track of.
The other account was for Mom to continue paying her department store credit card bills and for buying things. My name was also added to the credit card account.
Mom got a bank statement mailed to her so she could check it against the check register. I set up online banking which enabled me to watch over her account and transfer money into it when necessary since it didn’t have a large balance.
set up bill pay
I was a late convert to online banking but I confess that this made bill paying and the money management affairs to much easier.
If you haven’t done this yet, here are a few good reasons for dementia caregivers to do so:
because you already have enough on your plate
being sure to pay bills on certain dates is one less thing you need to keep track of
it guarantees that bills will be paid and not forgotten, lost, thrown out, or misplaced in a drawer or the refrigerator!
Don’t laugh! Those are very real possibilities with someone who has dementia.
set up alerts
Another suggestion I have is to set up alerts on the accounts. You want to do this for peace of mind and to cover the “what ifs” that could happen.
A fear that I had when we would go places was that Mom would set her purse down and then proceed to walk away from it leaving it behind somewhere. The forgetfulness was another reason to keep a lower balance in her checking account.
I set up the alert to be notified of credit card charges over $5. You can do this on debit cards as well if those are used.
alternatives to managing the financial affairs in person
If you aren’t in a position to manage the banking accounts of your loved one in person, there are alternatives.
Hire a money manager (American Association of Daily Money Managers)
Appoint someone to be the financial power of attorney
Trusted family friend
If you have to do the last one, you might also get monthly banking statements so you can keep track of the account.
Problem-solving, difficulty doing familiar tasks (such as writing in checkbooks), and problems with writing are just a few of the early signs of dementia. If your loved one’s dementia is making itself known especially when it comes to banking issues, then it’s time to visit the bank and address the issue of money management.
If you are handling your loved one’s banking I’d like to know your thoughts. How did you first notice there was a problem? Are there any other suggestions about banking that you would add? Hit reply and let me know.