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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Fending off the Fraudsters

Sometimes humans are terribly disappointing. I do not understand those people who are behind all the robo/scam calls. I know I am fortunate to live in the U.S. and had parents that provided a nice, stable life and opportunities to thrive.

Every week I deal with older adults who have fallen prey to a crook. Some of them hooked in over a phone call, while others walk into their homes and overcharged or stole money from their wallets. The most heart-breaking are those clients that have “friends” taking advantage of their good nature, good fortune, or inability to even recognize their “friend” is taking advantage of them.

The best way to help is to just be available to your loved one. Listen, watch, be curious. Most people have myriad systems to manage their financial accounts, personal information, and online usernames and passcodes. For an easy way to open the door, you could buy them a workbook to get organized on Amazon for around $20 or direct from the author for less than $15 plus shipping. It is one way you can start the conversation about all of the information that you might need to be able to help a loved one.

If you have someone who is having trouble managing, but doesn’t recognize it, be ready to help when they ask for it. Sometimes you have to let someone fail before they will allow you to step up and help them.

Patience. It is one of the hardest skills I continue to work on honing. When it comes to helping out a loved one, it is one that could benefit you both. Suggested.

To learn more, check out this story from Equifax. You do not need to pay for their services to get your credit report. Every year they are required to provide one for free. If you set up an online account, you can usually get an updated version monthly.

My Mom repeats herself. Is that a symptom of dementia?

stylish women leaning on pillars on station
Photo by Daria Sannikova on Pexels.com

We have all done this at some point in our lives — and we either realize it mid-sentence or are told by our conversation partner. If this is a common occurrence and the person repeating themselves doesn’t recall having the conversation before, then it is time to bring it up with the primary care doctor. 

Any change in behavior by a loved one should start with a visit to their doctor. There are a variety of things that could cause changes (medication, lack of sleep,  a urinary tract infection) and not necessarily dementia. However, I do advise you start with the primary care doctor and discuss the changes. The more specific you can be the better so consider starting a journal to help you recall how often this is happening as well as help define exactly what is occurring.  My mom dismissed my concerns when I went to the doctor with her, and she focused on my Dad’s forgetfulness. I didn’t have specific details and facts to frame my concerns. 

Time and time again I know of many families that recognize something is off, but it is not something a primary care doctor can easily identify. Often, dementia won’t be diagnosed until later in the disease progression and early treatment could help slow the advance of the disease. So be persistent. Ask for a referral for a neuropsychological examination. Even after my Dad was diagnosed, he would score 28 on the mini-mental exam out of 30 — push for more nuanced testing.  

Looking back, I now recognize so many issues and signs that alerted us to mom’s dementia, but it was a long difficult road to even get to a diagnosis for a variety of reasons. The biggest one being my mom and dad fought to keep their independence fiercely. I arrived when I was given the opportunity to help them. I just hope that I won’t repeat history if I end up with the same condition. Prayed.

Why the Scammers are Winning and What you Can Do to Help

The scammers are winning over and over again. They give attention, value, and even a mission. A recent New York Times OpEd “My Grandmother’s Favorite Scammer” clearly illustrates how much this woman desired to be heard, counted on, and involved. When we step in to help our family, we often forget to honor the human in front of us.

Feel free to punk this scammer who tried to phish me into responding to the offer.

I often talk with adult children who want to know how to protect their loved ones. The most important way to help them is to listen, engage, and be available to them when they want it. Consider why they are continuing to answer the phone and get fooled by generic texts. They want to connect, which for many that stay at home all day, means conversations on the phone. The last year has made the phone the only life-line of human interaction and the scammers made the most of it … and don’t seem to be slowing down.

I have heard several individuals who I have worked with after they were scammed that they didn’t mind giving the “gifts” to the individuals that were giving them attention. One family friend was told by her sister that it was worth 10% of her wealth to have the interesting conversations and engagement she was having with her European “boyfriend.”

While I do recommend you consider spam blocking software and apps for email, the computer, and the home and or mobile phones, I just ask that you consider the emotions behind the interest in talking to a stranger on the phone.

Are there some other ways to help with engagement, purpose, and meaning when your loved ones goal is to live in their home alone? Contemplated.

I would love to hear if and how you have had success – whether it’s a roommate moving in or the use of some technology or apps.