Is Adding Your Name to the Bank Account the Right Step?

I work with families who have a loved with who has been diagnosed with a cognitive issue and almost without fail, their first step was to add someone to the bank account.

While I am not a lawyer or banker, I can speak to the basic practical issues this can create and when this can be the right next step.

Everyone whose name is on an account can write checks, withdraw money, and use the account for bank transactions. However, it also becomes an “asset” of those named on the bank account. If one account holder owes money, a creditor can try to collect money from the joint bank account. It could also be named in a divorce settlement.

There are pros and cons of naming a joint account holder.

The best first step should be to name someone to act for you for your financial affairs in a Durable Power of Attorney document an estate lawyer can create for you. They can explain all of this in more detail, but the practical matter of naming a joint account holder:

CONS

  • The joint account holder can withdraw and use or mismanage your money. There is no guide to how your money should be used.
  • Creditors may use legal processes to try to satisfy their debts from your money in the account if your joint account holder has unpaid debts.
  • When you die, the money will become the joint account holders without regard to any estate planning provisions you have in place.

PROS:

  • The joint account holder can easily act on your behalf and pay your bills.
  • The money becomes the individuals when you die so there is no probate or tax reporting.

It was a huge time-saver for me and allowed me to freely and easily step in to help pay for my parent’s care. There is a time and place when adding a loved one to your joint account can be the right choice. Advised.

If you are curious about which option might be right for you, feel free to set up a free 20-minute consultation.

For more information about the variety of ways someone can help with bill pay and banking, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Hip-to-Hip Help for Someone Diagnosed with Dementia

I found the most difficult aspect of helping my parents was the time required to become a trusted resource. Silly me ASSUMED that being their adult child and years of involvement as a 30 and 40-year-old would have brought me a few street creds with them. We had dinner together at least twice a week and enjoyed many life events as adults. We knew about each other’s lives in great detail.

When they both started to have cognitive issues, what I didn’t know was that they didn’t recognize that they were struggling. My mom would comment on how my dad was forgetful. My dad would never say a bad word about my mom but did agree that it might be a good idea if they both got tested. My mom would never agree believing that only my dad was having trouble.

Eventually, there were very real issues to address. Double contracts for home repairs, water bills that were unpaid, and a general lack of fiscal management.

Work in tandem or hip-to-hip

My mistake was to try and take over the bill pay. At the time I was working full-time and raising two kids. It never dawned on me to come over and offer to walk through the bills and pay them together. That takes a lot of time. At this point, my mom had a stroke and needed follow-up medical appointments and then my dad fell and broke his hip. I was spending a lot of time with them and never considered approaching bill pay in tandem.

When I launched MemoryBanc and started to help other families, I realized how relieved the clients we served were when we sat down with them and helped them tackle bill pay together. With everything going on, I had never tried that with my parents.

I learned how important it was to help beside them and keep them involved. I realized how much they were losing besides their memories … friends, hobbies, a sense of meaning and purpose.

If you are on your journey with a loved one, consider how you can move forward with them instead of for them. Learned.

When Money Habits Change

There were a few odd conversations with my Mom when things didn’t make sense. But the most alarming thing was when I realized my parents had changed their decades-long habit of giving every January. I started to notice that my mother was writing checks to charities that they had never previously supported.

I would read the letter and see “Thank you for your pledge” when I knew my parents would never have pledged to these organizations. However, their generation is known for being people of their word. They didn’t realize this was a marketing tactic and would write checks to fulfill the commitment they believed they must have made. Others showed up looking like a bill, so it got paid.

A peak into my Mom’s checkbook showed me that they were writing an unusual amount of donations every month.

I had no idea how prevalent it was for older adults to get lured into giving to charities until I started to work with other older adults to pay their bills.

I knew it made my mom feel good to write those checks. However, what I didn’t know at the time was that that first donation turned my mom into a charity magnet and it resulted in a magnitude of mail NO ONE wants to manage.

Many good charities have turned over the solicitation to for-profit companies that get and sell your name. It turns out that is why giving to one charity can often create a cascade of new mail solicitations.

The best way to give to a charity is to contact them and donate directly. You can ask them to ONLY contact you once a year, but since every charity is different, the best way to give is to initiate your own donations. For many of our clients, we do this near the end of the year after we have seen how the cash flow went and discuss it with their tax preparer.

One of my first clients was giving away over $2,000 using her memorized credit card number. The same organizations were calling her several times a week and she was donating $10 each time … but didn’t remember she already donated to them. She was living alone and in the early stages of Cognitive Impairment. She would ALWAYS answer the phone and would rattle off her credit card number. When I asked her what her giving intentions were, it was way below the amount she was donating. The number of solicitations she got weekly filled a USPS mail tub. Her name was on the “do not mail” list and she moved twice before the volume of solicitations finally dwindled.

Never donate to charities that have called you. This is easy to say, but most of the clients we work with are compelled to answer the phone and oh boy, are those callers persuasive! Often, we end up putting a note by the telephone to remind them that “I never give to telephone solicitors. Take me off of your list.”

My experience resulted in me being interviewed on The Perfect ScamSM — a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers with the knowledge to recognize and avoid scams. Charity Watch offers additional tips and you can visit their website to check out the charities you like.

If you are showing up at your loved ones’ home and seeing piles of mail — I hope this gives you some ideas that help. Scammers Stink!

Pausing to Understand Your Loved One

Years ago when I was the adult child watching my parent’s cognitive abilities dim, I ended up reading some things Kate Swaffer posted. She was diagnosed with dementia before her 50th birthday and has been a thoughtful, passionate educator for the years I have been watching her in action. She recently posted Today, I hate Dementia.

In caring for my parents, I read her words to help me better understand what my parent’s might be experiencing. What I thought was a mean rebuke of something I was doing to be helpful, was a personal affront I had initiated without realizing my impact. Dementia is cruel. It steals things from all of us.

I hope you will read her post and check out her book and other posts that may offer you a peak into the lives of those we are living with that might not be able to tell us what and how they feel. Appreciated.

The move from MCI to Dementia

There are many times when a family member calls to share that a loved one was initially diagnosed with “Mild Cognitive Impairment” (MCI) but they are now facing some difficult situations and do not know what to do.

Usually a few years will pass and the behavior, thinking, or habits they are seeing in their loved one have changed and now they wonder “What can we do”?

I will start at the beginning and hope that many families had a discussion early on about what this means and how the individual diagnosed would like you to consider any progression in their condition.

Unfortunately, most individuals don’t recognize the changes but their loved ones do. I find some people easily accept and listen while others dismiss and debate.

Visit Alzheimer’s Association to get your Free copy.

There are many Aging Life Care Managers that can provide assistance in navigating these choices. In general, early on is when you want to have a discussion about:

  • When might it not be safe to continue to drive?
  • How much care am I expecting my spouse/partner/child to provide?
  • Could the role of Caregiver create health issues for the person I am counting on to provide it?
  • While most people want to stay in their home it can be an expensive choice as well as create other complications like socialization with others. Can you afford to stay at home? What kind of socialization (person visits and companionship) would make you happy? When might it no longer be safe to stay at home?
  • What if I can’t manage my medication any longer? What are some options to consider?
  • What if I become a victim of identity theft or fraud? Who and how can those around me help?
  • What is most important to the individual if they progress into moderate and late-stage dementia.

There is much to consider. There is a document on the Alzheimer’s Association called “COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT
CARE PLANNING TOOLKIT”
which is written more for professionals, but is a helpful guidebook to navigating medical visits and planning.

It gives you more than you asked for, but is an excellent primer on the conditions, the land of diagnosis codes, as well as tools and questions to help you consider many of these matters.

IF you have already moved past this stage and are now in the land of “what can I do”, my next post will speak to that familiar landscape. Witnessed.

My Fight Against Charity Fraud

Early in my caregiver journey with my parents, I recognized that my mother was writing checks to charities that they had never previously supported. I didn’t realize how prevalent it was for older adults to change giving habits until I started helping another older adult and saw her giving in ways that didn’t line up with her prior habits.

I knew it made my mom feel good to write those checks. However, what I didn’t know at the time was that that first donation turned my mom into a charity magnet and it resulted in a magnitude of mail NO ONE wants to manage.

Sadly, many good charities have turned over the solicitation to for-profit companies that get and sell your name. It turns out that is why giving to one charity can often create a cascade of new mail solicitations.

My experience and telling my story resulted in me being interviewed on The Perfect ScamSM a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers with the knowledge to recognize and avoid scams.

You can reach a summary of the podcast here as well as follow the link to hear more about our experience. It is a common experience. You show up at your loved ones’ home and see the piles of mail. In this podcast you will learn why this happens and how to fight back. Told.

Assume Appreciation

For anyone who has stepped up to help a loved one, you know how hard it can be.

Your loved one is fighting for independence, purpose, and typically has no recognition of the help they need. It took me a year to really figure out how to better navigate the support my parents needed but didn’t recognize.

I learned that I had to be the one to adapt. For someone with a cognitive issue that they most likely don’t fully recognize, they are going to be unable to adapt.

Years ago when I was still working in Corporate America, we had a consultant come in to help the company function better. One of the things we learned was to always give your team mates the assumption they are working to help you. As you can imagine, we had some internal struggles and this idea did help us start to have dialogue around where we were trying to go and how to get there now assuming we were all going to the same place. It was a game-changer, at least for me, and I still carry on this philosophy in all I do.

One of the things I did learn on my caregiving journey was to sit with my parents, and mostly my Mom, and do things in tandem. While early on the first thought was to take away the checkbook, I changed to a system where I would come and sit with my Mom to help her with the bills. Eventually, she just handed over the checkbook and asked me to take care of the bills for her.

That first year was REALLY difficult and I don’t think I ever cried so much in my life. It was frustrating, heartbreaking, and thankless.

After I changed to approach my role differently, things went a lot smoother.

YES. The time I needed to spend with my parents to help them DOUBLED. It takes way less time to do things solo, but the reality was that my parents wanted to participate.

One day, I walked into my parents apartment, and found the note I have included in this post. “Dear Kay, So thoughtful and loving for you to take us on — as if you don’t already have enough to do.” My Mom was not a gushy lady. Reading this still brings tears of joy and grief to my eyes.

There were some things I could have done differently but I did the best I could. I operated on the assumption that it was an honor and duty to help my parents. In the end, I was surprised to find that my Mom recognized the love behind my support for them.

Even if they are unable to tell you, assume there is appreciation for the support you are offering.

I meet many older adults today who hire me and my agency to help them because they don’t have family to help. The stories I hear are often heart-breaking and they feel very alone.

I wanted to remind you that the people you are helping are lucky to have you. What you do might not always be the perfect option, but it’s okay because you are working on finding the best path forward together. Appreciated.

Navigating the Choice to Move a Parent in with You

I believe had I known how my parent’s care journey would end, I would have made some different choices. We all know hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy to second guess decisions made, especially when you are making a decision for a loved one that is unable that choice for themselves.

I am sharing this story that quotes a local professional that I met years ago on a panel discussion. I was immediately drawn to her practical advice and wisdom, and also witnessed her support when we both worked for the same client.

I believe the more you know, the better you can feel about the decisions and choices you may need to make with or for someone else … as well as consider what you might want when you are the one needing a little more help.

When mom or dad wants move in with you: How to decide and what to say if the answer is no

I hope you find the article useful. Recommended.

You Do Not Have to Navigate Alone

When a loved one needs your help, it’s easy to say “Yes” but then find yourself overwhelmed with choices or decisions you don’t know how to navigate.

I lived this journey and recognize how I could have made it easier for myself, and my parents if I had incorporated an Aging Life Care Professional earlier.

I seem families struggle with their situation, and they just don’t know what options there are to help. Unfortunately, your primary care doctor, nor any of the specialized medical professionals you visit, don’t have the time, or the practical knowledge to know how to navigate living choices and care options once a health condition is making life more difficult.

I used Aging Life Care Professionals to help me narrow down the choices for a memory care community for my Mom. She was living in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, but the care options for her didn’t fit her memory care needs. In our area we had over 30 memory care communities. The Aging Life Care Professionals I hired understood that my Mom loved to walk. They gave me and my siblings 3 places to visit so we could make the final choice and also gave us the pros and cons for each. We were very happy with the choice and the advice on how best to help make the move for my Mom. We paid them for a few hours of their time, which helped me save dozens of hours researching options and eliminated hours worrying about making the right choice.

I work with many families who are floundering to help find the right care and understand the care options in their area. I will always recommend they contact a local Aging Life Care Professional to help navigate these early choices. They can help understand:

  • The type of care that would be most useful
  • The terms and conditions in a care agreement with a home care agency
  • The amount of time you might consider having care support in the home
  • How to adapt your home to make it easier for them to stay there
  • When you need to consider a care community over caring for a loved one at home
  • Who are the best doctors to help address the health issues being faced
  • How to navigate what you believe to be your loved ones wishes with their health condition

Those are just the basics and I encourage you to consider contacting a professional in your area and letting them help you understand how they might be able to help you.

What I do know is that so often the caregiver fails because they are overwhelmed. I hope you will take the time to contact a local professional to see how they might be able to help you and your loved ones. Encouraged.

Getting Your Ducks in A Row … and the continued Vigilance Required to Be Prepared

I recently lost a client who chose to control his own destiny. None of us knew he has been planning this end, but now his call to me to talk through the Estate Plans makes sense.

I reminded him that three years ago we had gone to the bank to provide them with his Trust and he made his checking account POD (payable upon death) to his Trust. The bulk of his wealth … his home and investment accounts … were already in the Trust. ** He chose to make the Trust the beneficiary after death, even though the lawyer had recommended titling the account to the Trust.

Last week I returned to his bank to provide them with the death certificate and transition his account into his Trust so we could pay his bills. The beauty of the Trust allows the Trustee (or in this case Successor Trustee) to carry on and avoid probate and additional taxes. However, the bank CAN’T FIND the Trust document or the POD instructions on his account! It is a big bank and they are going through a merger. Even the best-made plans can fail.

Just having the legal Trust document doesn’t mean your assets are held in Trust. You MUST take an extra step to ensure your home, investment account, financial assets are titled to/listed as the account holder.

PLEASE SEEK and follow THE ADVICE OF YOUR ESTATE LAWYER.

I am not a lawyer, but on a weekly basis run into all the ways great Estate Plans fail. Usually, it is because the people that paid to create the plans didn’t follow the instructions on how to implement those plans. Your work didn’t end the day you left the lawyer’s office after signing the papers … it really just began. Call your lawyer to find out if you are prepared.

Practically, what can you do to ensure you are prepared for when you need help? First, assume that you will need help before you die. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 70 percent of all adults over the age of 65 will need 3 years of help to manage the activities of daily living. Don’t wait until you need help. It can take weeks and even months to work with financial institutions.

  • Get Estate Plans in place by working with an Elder Law Attorney. This includes a variety of legal documents they will discuss with you.
  • Follow the instructions you are given. For those people that have a Trust, you should receive a document that recommends which accounts you title to the Trust (instead of the account being in your name “Kay Bransford” it would be “The Kay Bransford Trust” and I would be listed as the Trustee). They will also provide information on which beneficiary updates need to be made for all of your asset accounts.
  • Monitor your mail to make sure the accounts are titled properly. Several years ago, I got a piece of mail from an investment account that was titled to “Kay Bransford.” Three years prior I had provided them with the Trust and for years, the mail was arriving titled to “The Kay Bransford Trust.” When I called to find out what was going on I was told they went through a computer update and somehow, it resulted in my account retitling. I was able to get it immediately addressed.

I hope these steps can help you understand the importance of truly implementing your Trust. Contact your lawyer when you have questions.

If you need some help monitoring and managing your accounts or your bill pay, you can contact a Daily Money Manager. They fill the void of practical actions needed when it comes to making sure you lead the rest of the life you envisioned. Summarized.

How can I get Mom to Move?

I have lived this journey. You know Mom/Dad are not safe in their home, but they have no interest in making any changes to their living arrangements.

First, recognize that your loved one may not recognize that they are not managing very well. Their eyesight might not allow them to see the dirty counters; a change in their cognition might make a messy room not seem like a problem; an inability to manage more than one step at a time may make picking up and sorting piles of mail seem less important.

A friend visited her mom and they were working on clearing out the closet. They had pulled everything out and sorted it and the day got too long for them to finish, so they left the project and went to dinner. They were all exhausted and planned on finishing the work in the morning. When my friend returned in the morning, she found her mother put everything back in the closet and was angry that her daughter had “rummaged through her stuff!”

It’s hard. You are worried for their safety and when someone is totally lacking short-term memory and having difficulty processing a simple project, it means they really should not be living on their own. Mom refuses to clean out the clutter and says she is not interested in moving.

My Advice? Tell your Mom you are worried and you want her to move (community, your home, siblings home, fill-in-the-blank). Have the conversation. Understand her feelings, fears, wishes. Don’t dictate, yell, admonish, but just have a conversation. After you have had the conversation, determine if you can come back on another day and implement what you discussed but approach it knowing what your Mom is worried about or afraid of.

When someone doesn’t have short-term memory you will just relive the same conversation. Remember that emotions are what usually get remembered, not the content of the conversation.

After struggling through a move from Independent Living to Assisted Living for my parents, my siblings and I had the conversation with our parents. We were afraid … as are many adult children … that the Assisted Living apartment was too small for them. However, we knew we had to make this happen or their community was going to evict them. One day, we took them out to lunch and brought them back to their new apartment. We spent time helping them decorate and patiently answered questions.

Within days, they had adapted and WERE HAPPIER. They loved being able to watch people come in and depart from the entrance. They had totally forgotten about their prior apartment. At this point, both of my parents were in a moderate stage of their dementia. The move can cause a step down in responses and thinking. They actually enjoyed having a smaller place to manage and enjoyed their new home. We were all surprised.

If there is a cognitive issue, you may never be able to talk them into the change. If they are truly unsafe and a change needs to be made, you might have to make it happen if there is no way to layer in safeguards where they are.

If you don’t make the change, you end up waiting for the crisis and then have fewer options and maybe now another health issue to manage. There is no right answer … just the right answer for you and your loved ones. Believed.