The Difficult, Delicate Untangling of Our Parents’ Financial Lives

Excerpt from a moving article in the Wall Street Journal

When my in-laws became too incapacitated to handle their own affairs, my wife and I took over. A year and a half later, we’re still trying to figure it all out.
Updated March 27, 2016
“No, no, no, don’t transfer me to her again,” pleads my wife.
It is a typically frustrating moment in our family crisis, one that many grown children will have to face, ready or not: We are people in our 50s who are unraveling the finances of parents who can no longer do it themselves.
My wife, Julie, is on the phone with the company where her 82-year-old dad had once worked, trying to change the direct deposit of his pension checks to a bank closer to the assisted-living home where he and his wife now live, which is near us in Pennsylvania. Again and again, she is transferred to the person in charge, “Rose.” And every time, the same recording: “This number has been disconnected.”
In the room next to her, I see our once-usable sofa, covered with her parents’ financial papers from the 1960s to now. On the floor sit a metal tub and plastic cups of coins that we had hauled from the parents’ third-floor walk-up in Queens, New York—a small (but heavy) part of their lifetime of earning and saving, nearly all of it offline.
These are the kinds of elder-care issues that people talk about, but until you have lived it, you don’t truly realize all that is involved—not even someone like me who has spent decades as a financial reporter.” 

So begins William Power’s, and his wife Julia’s, long, exhausting, frustrating journey trying to help her aging parents handle their financial, medical and personal lives when her father is hospitalized. There is no central record of their various financial accounts, so it takes months to begin to piece this together, as her parents memories are vague. Virtually everything is on pieces of paper, with records going back to the early days of their marriage in the 60’s. Over many months, they wait for the mail to determine what bills her parents’ owe, and pore over the monthly credit cards, as many charges are on auto bill, for services her parents don’t remember signing up for. You can read the full article here.

With more than 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 70 every day, this is becoming a much more common occurrence. Which is why adult children of aging parents need to begin to have these discussions by the time their parents are in their 60’s, and don’t feel as threatened by this conversation. 

There are resources out there to help families. Don’t put it off.