(Update to original post from November 13, 2018)

As the holidays approach, you may be visiting aging parents who live far away. During this visit, it’s important to pay attention to any changes that would signal declining mental capabilities.

Things to look for include changes in personal hygiene and house maintenance. It may become more cumbersome for them to groom regularly. You may notice stacks of unopened mail or the home more disarray than usual.

If your parents are still together, one spouse typically hides the failing mental health of the other spouse. You may have to probe with thoughtful questions.

Whether your parents are healthy or starting to decline mentally, it’s worth asking about the following financial items so you can assist them if and when necessary:

1- Durable power of attorney for finances:

This legal document specifies who can make financial decisions when your parents are not able.

If your parents are still healthy and capable, they may prefer a springing power of attorney. This legal document gives temporary control of finances.

Your parents can specify how broadly or specifically they want others to have access to their money. For example, they may only be comfortable with allowing someone access to their money to pay bills.

2- Contact information:

Ask for phone numbers and emails for their financial advisor, insurance agent, and any other professionals they work with regarding their finances.

If possible, schedule an introductory meeting with them while you’re in town. Meeting these professionals in advance will help you if there is an emergency or if you need to make decisions for your parents.

3- Location of financial accounts:

Create a list of financial institutions that hold their money. This list should include checking accounts, savings accounts, brokerage accounts, and any other financial institutions where they keep their money.

Some of these institutions may require their own durable power of attorney form. This list comes in handy when and if you need to step in and help your parents.

4- Spending:

Discuss how your parents spend their money. Do they have sufficient income to cover their expenses?

If not, help them identify where they can reduce expenses or take advantage of senior discounts. For example, their mobile phone expense could be lower if they don’t use their data.

Another reason to discuss their spending is in the event you need to hire help for them for house cleaning, lawn maintenance, or handyman items. Knowing how much is available to pay for these services will help when the need arises.

5- Use of direct deposit:

Encourage your parents to set up their Social Security, pension, and other retirement income to be directly deposited into their checking account.

In this way, they are less likely to become targets of stolen mail. Unfortunately, the elderly are targets for theft and fraud.

Discussing financial information with your parents may occur over the course of time. Some parents may be more open and willing to discuss these items, whereas others may be more reserved about this information.

Using an example of where a friend was caught off guard by a parent’s illness may help open the conversation. Another icebreaker with this topic is talking about your own planning for emergencies.

There’s no right time to begin this conversation, but it’s helpful to have this information before there is a crisis. And if they are uncomfortable talking with you, ask them to contact us.


Niv Persaud, CFP®, CDFA™, RICP®, CRPC®, is the Founder of Transition Planning & Guidance, LLC. Life is more than money. It’s about living the lifestyle you want and can afford. For that reason, Niv consults with clients on money, life, and work. Her approach capitalizes on techniques she learned throughout her career, including as a management consultant, executive recruiter, and financial advisor. Her services include developing spending plans, comprehensive financial plans, divorce financial reviews, retirement plans. Niv actively gives back to her community through her volunteer efforts. She believes in living life to the fullest by cherishing friendships, enjoying the beauty of nature and laughing often — even at herself. Her favorite quote is by Erma Bombeck, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say ‘I used everything you gave me.’”