How to Fight a Company Preying on your Loved One(s)

A colleague of mine called to ask for some help. She and her two sisters are stepping in to help their parents and shared the never-ending battle they are having with a company called PowerHome Solar that recently rebranded to Pink Solar. See the link to recent news story about this icky business … apparently they are notorious for their misleading tactics and the law suits are mounting.

This is just one family’s story about the struggle to fend off a predatory business. However, as daily money managers at MemoryBanc, we run into these situations often with our clients. Sometimes that phone creates easy access to individuals who are too trusting. We work with many individuals who want to continue answering their phones and will engage with the callers. How do your balance free will, choice, purpose, meaning AND safety?

The hard reality is that real businesses can prey on older adults, it is not just fraudsters and scammers.

Couple in Ohio

My colleagues’ parents live in their home of several decades in a small town in Ohio. Apparently, dad signed up for more information online after reading about how solar energy could decrease their electric bills. The company sent out a salesperson who was at the house for three hours which resulted in them signing a contract for solar polar grid installation for $58,000. Thankfully, they told one of the daughters about it and they were able to cancel the contract within the three-day window. They specifically requested that the company not contact the parents again.

A month later, they sent another person to the parents’ house and they sat with them for four hours. This “nice young kid” sold them the same contract again – $58K. Thankfully one of the daughters called during the meeting and they were able to cancel the second contract the next day.

This time they asked to speak to a manager and told them to stop. The very next day the manager called the parents and asked to set up a third appointment.

There is no math anyone can perform that would make a $58,000 solar panel installation pay itself back in her parent’s lifetime. However, something is compelling about this and mom and dad keep signing the contract.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? These are simple steps to take to support a loved one. In this situation, the advanced options might be the only way to help fend off predatory businesses.

The basics:

  • Set up alerts on spending for the bank account. I get alerts for my own bank account and credit cards. I have been able to immediately report a fraudulent charge as well as been alerted on recurring charges for services. I do admit that it was eye-opening to know how a meal service program I signed up for at one cost quickly escalated and no longer felt like a good use of grocery funds once the incentives ended.
  • Get added to the bank account as power of attorney if they agree. This is different than being added as a joint account holder on the account. This way you will have online access and will be able to check-in and see income and debits.
  • Minimize the amount of money in the bank account and fund it as needed. This can be a balancing act but if you are worried about fraud or misuse of funds, don’t keep a lot of money in the primary bank account.

Advanced options:

Some of these are unpopular choices but work. We have done these when there has been a large or repeated scams/predatory service provider(s).

  • Change the phone number. You can also block the number, but often a business will have so many variations the only way to stop the calls is to change their phone number to an unlisted number.
  • Have a Trust and put all of the assets in a Trust. You can have a trust that requires more than one signature and can set up barriers to contracting. I am not a lawyer, so I recommend you contact one to discuss this option.
  • Petition for Guardianship. This is the option of last resort because it is costly and harsh. You are basically stripping the individual of the ability to sign contracts and manage their finances. Contact a lawyer about this option as well.

Thanks to my colleague for allowing me to share the challenges her family is facing. I hope you find some of the tips and insights are helpful for you and your family. Vigilant.

Solar Panel Scams: How to Avoid Them and the Biggest Red Flags CNET 5/22/2022

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!

Do you want your parent to move in?


The isolation experienced during COVID has made most of us reconsider how we want to care, and be cared for when we need it. Many of us had to watch as loved ones declined during the long isolation. I noticed it the most for clients that I worked with who were in retirement and assisted-living communities. It was a tough road and we are still navigating how to balance safety and engagement.

My mom and I after her community had a tie-dye party. I liked hers much better!

Had I known how my parent’s care journey would end, I would have made some different choices. I see families facing these choices every week, and it’s never an easy or simple choice to make. Sometimes you are having to make a choice for someone who is unable to understand why their living situation needs to change.

Sometimes the person caring for the individual needs more support, and sometimes the person receiving the care might not like the arrangement. 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.

The earlier you can have these discussions, the better for everyone. Hoped.

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.