With the holidays nearly upon us, it is easy to be consumed with final details and prep for a successful family feast. How will the traffic be on the way to Grandma’s house? Where did I put Great-Aunt Linda’s pumpkin pie recipe? Does little Timmy hate pecans or walnuts? But if you’re one of the millions of Americans traveling a long-distance this season to see an aging relative, you may want to focus on assessing their health and financial security during your visit.
Whether you’re seeing an elderly parent or loved one for the first time this year or catching-up after a few months apart, the holidays are a good time to keep your eyes and ears open for warning signs that they need some help. Financial capacity is one of the first things to go even though confidence about money management may remain constant, so be aware of these concerning behaviors and know when and how to step in.
- Memory Loss – Misplacing items, becoming disoriented, and having difficulty performing basic tasks can be signs of impending Alzheimer’s or Dementia. In addition to health and safety concerns, a decrease in cognitive function can lead to forgetfulness about what money has already been spent, confusion over whether bills have been paid, and impaired judgement about what is an appropriate purchase.
- Mail & Packages Piling Up – Are there stacks of magazines, packages, and unopened mail around the home? Unpaid bills are an obvious cause for alarm, but so are other collections of mail. An excess of magazines could mean mom is paying for subscriptions she may have thought were free, while a large number of packages could indicate a home-shopping obsession or even hoarding.
- Phone Ringing Off The Hook – A phone that constantly ringing is almost always a sign of a bigger problem. Whether it’s predatory telemarketers who’ve had success selling products to dad before or creditors calling to collect on fabricated debts, you’ll want to pick up the phone during your visit. Find out who is so anxious to get in touch with your parent, and make it stop.
- Conversation Clues – While it’s unlikely that mom will come right out and ask for help managing her money, she may be giving you subtle signals in conversation. Does she share a story of helping a nice new friend pay his bills, mention a charity she supports that you’ve never heard of, or tell you how she sent money to rescue her grandson from a “bad situation” you know he wasn’t in? These are common signs that she is being exploited and needs additional protection to keep her money safe from fraud and scams.
- Missing Money – If there is significantly less money in dad’s account than you would expect, there is likely a problem. But if you don’t have access to his accounts, how can you detect an area for concern? A difference in gifts – dramatically more or less than previous years – can be a good clue as well as an empty checkbook, unpaid bills,pricey items around the house, and confusion around how much cash he has on hand.
It is essential to be on the lookout for these warning signs while you’re home for the holidays. Use this blog as a checklist when you’re with your elderly loved one this season, and take action if you see something wrong. If you’re concerned about talking with your aging parent about this tough topic, check out these tips to ensure you have an amicable, productive discussion. And if you have siblings, use this strategies to resolve any conflicts about how to care for your parents – remember you all want the best for mom and dad!
Elder financial abuse may seem like a problem that happens to other families, but with seniors losing $36.5 billion every year to fraud, scams, and exploitation, it could easily happen to you – like it did to Michelle’s mom. You can learn more about the size of the problem, how seniors are being targeted, what puts them at risk, and how to protect yourself and your loved ones in our 2015 report. Or use our fraud risk calculatorto assess who in your family is susceptible to financial exploitation.