There comes a point, when you are caring for a loved one living with dementia, when you have to have one of the ‘difficult talks’. There are lots of these, including housing and accommodation, introducing home helps, using memory aids etc – but one of the most tricky is finances.
In my own story, it was actually financial irregularities that alerted me to the fact that my father might have dementia. He was suddenly (on a handsome private pension) running out of money to pay for the basics – bills, groceries etc. I started to notice demands for payments from utilities companies when I went round. I sneaked a glance at a few opened bills and was horrified to see that he simply wasn’t paying anything and hadn’t done for months. A bit more digging revealed that he was also taking large sums of cash out of cashpoints (we later discovered that he was giving it away to some appalling scammers who pretty much cleared out his life savings).
Talking to my father about this was almost impossible – a proud man, he would simply get furious at the idea that his daughter was ‘policing’ his finances. We had a lot of run-ins over the years. But there were a few things that helped, and that will help anyone facing the onerous chore of helping elderly parents navigate finances safely.
First of all, you can become a signatory on their main bank account. This allows you to keep an eye on the account, withdraw and pay in money and also deal with direct debits, standing orders etc which are all useful when setting up regular payments for bills. If you get a good relationship going with the parent’s bank (and it is in their interest to help, as bouncing cheques and direct debits are not good for business) you can even set up a ‘side’ account to take care of regular bills, and make sure that a set amount of money is put aside each month to pay for this. This was the arrangement that I had with my father’s bank for many years, to stop his habit of withdrawing everything that was in the account over a period of days. You can also set a ‘daily withdrawal’ amount that will stop the elderly person taking out too much cash in one go. Often older people have had the same bank for many years, so with luck their bank will know them and understand the situation – the personal touch goes a long way in these cases.
Some people like the idea of joint accounts with their parents, but this is not a great idea, because of the issues that can arise if they get ill or die, or get into debt – as you can become liable for their financial affairs. Your starting point should be a discussion with your parent (if they are reluctant you could try appealing to the need to keep on top of things should they ever become ill or incapacitated) and then a chat with their bank to see what is available.
A more wide-ranging and powerful document is a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). You can get two different versions, one for finances and one for health and welfare (a key point here is that to set one up, the parent needs to be of sound mind and capable of making their own decisions, so it is not suitable if the elder is already confused and incapacitated. If your parent is still at the early stages of dementia now is the ideal time to set this in motion).
Power of Attorney enables you to act in your parent’s best interests if they are unable to. For finances it means you can control bank accounts, set up bill payments, track and limit spending and lots more including selling a property. You can talk to utility companies on their behalf and make arrangements for them easily and quickly. For health and welfare, the document is more limited in scope, but will allow you to make decisions should a parent be unconscious, in a coma or incapable of understanding their health situation.
You can consult a solicitor to get the paperwork done and ensure that everything is correct. If you are confident doing it yourself then it is fairly straight forward. To set one up you will need a couple of witnesses and an hour or two to go through things with your parent. It may seem like an onerous chore, but it is very much worth putting the time in now before things get more complicated. You may think that if you’re married or in a civil partnership, your spouse would automatically be able to deal with your bank accounts and pensions, or make decisions about your care if you’re no longer able to. But this isn’t always true. Without an LPA, your spouse wouldn’t be able to act on your behalf.
Once you have filled in your form it needs to be registered with the Office of the Public Guardian. It costs £82 per form. You can download the forms or fill them in online here.
At difficult times such as when dementia has been diagnosed, it can be tempting to leave these awkward conversations for a later date, but getting finances in order early can make a huge difference to the quality of life and options that are available as the disease progresses. Our suggestion would be to take a deep breath, and take the plunge today.